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Introducing Japan’s Top Wheelchair Tennis Players (Part III - Quad Class -)

Japan, home to Shingo Kunieda (Men’s/No. 1 world ranking) and Yui Kamiji (Women’s/No. 2 world ranking) is a wheelchair tennis powerhouse. However, Kunieda and Kamiji are not the only wheelchair tennis players that are expected to do well at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Here, we will introduce the top wheelchair tennis players you’ll want to keep an eye on for 2020, both in the Men’s and Women’s as well as the Quad Class events.

Quad Class

Koji Sugeno – “I want to break into that top 3 stronghold”

No. 4 World Ranking
Switched from the Men’s event to the Quad Class event in 2017, and aims to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics. Won a silver medal in the Singles event and a gold medal in the Doubles event at the Asian Para Games. Competed for the first time in the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters and came in 3rd place.

“I’ve gotten up to No. 4, but the top three players in the world rankings are always the same, and it’s hard to see myself winning a medal yet. I think I especially have to watch out for 19-year old Sam Schroder and 16-year old Niels Vink from the Netherlands, so I’ll have to be careful from now on as well.”

Born August 24, 1981 (37 years old) / From Saitama Prefecture / Trunk impairment (tetraplegia) due to a cervical cord injury in a car accident

Kei Usami – “My goal for next year is to get into the top 20-25!”

No. 29 World Ranking
Competed for the second time in the Masters, following his first attempt last year. Made it into the finals this year as well but came in runner-up for the second year in a row.

“I don’t have enough grip or enough power to push myself around, so in my practice right now I’m trying to focus more on physical conditioning and wheelchair training to improve my strength. This year I was able to get up to the No. 29 in the world rankings, the best ranking I’ve ever had. In the 2019 season I want to aim for somewhere in the top 20-25 range.”

Born on November 22, 1990 (28 years old) / From Tokyo / Cervical vertebrae injury due to a fall

Yoichi Otsubo – “I’m just now at the start line, and I want to experience as much as I can”

No. 40 World Ranking
Competed in the Masters for the first time, becoming the oldest player ever to compete in the tournament for the first time. Went through illness and accidents due to a systemic disease, and began playing wheelchair tennis at the age of 54. Currently spends most of his time playing wheelchair tennis as a contract athlete.

“My first goal is to break into the top 20 in the world rankings so I can start aiming for the Tokyo Paralympics. I feel my mental strength, my adaptation skills, and my return power have all improved. Being able to pull through and win full-set games in particular was something I couldn’t have done without this improvement in mental strength.”

Born on February 13, 1960 (58 years old) / From Tokyo / Total knee replacement, handedness sensory impairment, decreased grip strength, etc., due to connective tissue disease (rheumatoid arthritis), cervical spine deformity, etc.

Hiroshi Toma – “I want to put what I’ve been doing to the test”

No. 70 World Ranking
Competed in the Athens 2004 Paralympics. Has won the Masters in the past. Receives lessons from the coach of the Japan national team, etc. after getting off of work.

“I’ve been competing mainly in domestic tournaments. I want to play the kind of tennis that throws the opponent around, interspersed with shorter-distance balls and other techniques. I want to learn effective ways to earn points, and use this knowledge in the next season.”

Born May 15, 1966 (52 years old) / From Aichi Prefecture / Spinal cord injury, above-knee amputation of the left leg due to a car accident

* Rankings are as of December 3, 2018
* This article was written based on interviews at the 28th All-Japan Selected Wheelchair Tennis Masters, held on December 7-9, 2018

text by Tomoko Sakai
photo by Haruo Wanibe

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