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[BNP Paribas World Team Cup] Medals Clinched by the Japanese Team—Juniors Win Team of the Year Award

The BNP Paribas World Team Cup was held between May 23 and 28 at Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo’s Ariake Tennis Park. The Japanese team did well at the first flagship wheelchair tennis group event to be hosted by Japan.

The Japanese Men’s Team Led by Kunieda Finishes in Second Place after Losing to France

Kunieda took the Japanese Men’s team to the play-offs in his comeback tournament

There were high expectations toward the Japanese Men’s team—led by World No. 5 Shingo Kunieda—to clinch the World Men’s Group title. However, the team was unable to live up to the crowd’s hopes.
This was Kunieda’s comeback tournament since his elbow surgery in April, and his first tournament in four months—the last time he competed was in January. But, even without much time available to practice, Kunieda still succeeded in leading the team to the World Men’s Group play-off for the title. He said, “I guess I fulfilled my bare minimum responsibility. My comeback tournament’s over now.” As for his Singles loss to World No. 1 Stephane Houdet, he said, “I want to get my revenge on Houdet’s home ground at the next tournament, which is the French Open. The score was 4-6, 2-6, so I think I’ll be able to do well in Rio.” It seems Kunieda’s thoughts are already on the future.
Takashi Sanada played first for the Japanese team, followed by Kunieda, the nation’s ace wheelchair tennis player. Even while taking a backseat to Kunieda, Sanada, who has been ranked within the top 10 in the world, played an active role worthy of it. He was defeated by World No. 3 Nicolas Peifer in the play-offs but contributed to Japan’s second place win. He showed his positive attitude by saying, “My results were the best of any tournament that I’ve competed in. We’ll aim to claim next year’s title.”

Tenacity Shown by the Women’s and Quad Teams

The Japanese team did well in the first World Team Cup held in Japan

The Women’s and Quad teams both won their play-offs for third place, winning the Bronze medal. The Women’s team had been aiming to defeat the Netherlands to clinch the title but had lost to China in the semifinal. Even from before the tournament, World No. 3 Yui Kamiji had been talking about China as being a foe to be wary of. Unfortunately, her fear became a reality. Forced to play for third place instead of the final, Japan played against Russia, with young team member Manami Tanaka playing the first Singles match. One of the objectives was to turn the flow around from Japan’s loss of the previous day. Although she was defeated 0-6, 2-6, her distinctive offense was seen toward the end, leaving the crowd with expectations for her future success. Kamiji, who played the second match, won her match with ease at 6-1, 6-2. The decision for the Bronze was therefore carried over to the Doubles match.

Playing with Kamiji in the Doubles was Miho Nijo, who is a candidate for the Rio Paralympic Games. Nijo excels in securely driving slack strokes back, creating opportunities for Kamiji to slam score-winning shots. These combination plays by the pair did the trick, resulting in a 6-4, 6-1 win over Russia to secure the Bronze medal for the Japanese team. Kamiji reflected on the game and said, “I’m glad that we were able to win in the end and achieve third place in the BNP Paribas World Team Cup held in Tokyo.”

“I also felt chagrined for losing against China and not being able to fulfill my responsibilities”
Kamiji, reflecting on the tournament, said

Exciting games were
played by the Kawano (in foreground) – Moroishi pair

In the Quad event, Japan went against the powerful US team with 1 win and 1 loss in the round-robin qualifying round. A loss would have meant that Japan would not be able to advance into the final round. Shota Kawano won the first Singles match 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, while second-up Mitsuteru Moroishi lost 2-6, 2-6 to World No. 2 David Wagner. The Doubles saw Kawano and Moroishi against the Wagner-Nick Taylor pair, which has won Gold medals at three Paralympic Games in a row. The Japanese duo said that they had felt intimidated in the past by the US pair’s name and reputation. However, they were eager to get revenge for losing their last final against them. They played a heated game for a sensational 7-5, 4-6, [10-6] win, bursting with joy at their victory.
Japan lost 0-2 to England in the semis, playing against Israel for the Bronze. Japan had played against Israel, also for the Bronze, at the London Paralympic Games four years ago. Although the Bronze was taken by Israel in 2012, Moroishi was pumped for a win this time. He said, “Although the players were different back then, I was intent on avenging the loss in London and winning at any cost,” revealing his thoughts from the day before the big match. The Quad pair defeated Israel 2-6, 6-4, [10-8] amid the roaring cheers of the crowd, clinching the Bronze medal.

The Japanese Juniors team competed in the tournament for the first time through a Wild Card slot, going on to the play-off to determine 7th and 8th place. Of the four teenagers who participated—Seijiro Hosoi (12th grade), Shiori Funamizu (10th grade), Katsuki Shimizu (10th grade) and Shogo Takano (7th grade)—only Hosoi has a world junior ranking. However, they won all matches against Russia in the play-off, placing 7th.

The Juniors were awarded the prestigious “Team of the Year” prize at the farewell party held after the close of the tournament. The Japanese Juniors team was able to achieve significant growth by engaging with global athletes through this tournament.

The Netherlands Achieves an Astounding 17th Consecutive Women’s World Group Crown

The Men’s World Group title went to France. Kunieda, who had been away from official competition for four months, was no match for current World No. 1 Houdet. Kunieda said, “Compared to the games played on the first day, my movement became much better by the final day.” However, the precision of Kunieda’s shots was poor in the match against Houdet, and he was unable to make decisive shots.。
The Netherlands showed their expected strength in the Women’s World Group. Although China tried their best in the final—World No. 2 Aniek Van Koot lost a set in the first Singles match—Van Koot went on to win 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. Meanwhile, World No. 1 Jiske Griffioen won straight sets for the Netherland’s 17th consecutive title.
In the Quad event, Australia, led by World No. 1 Dylan Alcott, won its first title, while in the Juniors, the US achieved its second consecutive win.
Although American players in the senior category are conspicuously absent recently from upper world rankings, there is anticipation that top global-level players will be appearing in the near future.

The Japanese Junior team,
which showed great growth, was named Team of the Year

Houdet said ”the warm applause given even to overseas players
by the crowd, let out a howl of victory" after the decisive match
that claimed the title

On the last day of the tournament, there were 3,769 spectators at Ariake Coliseum for the Men’s World Group final. Kunieda had always spoken of how he wanted a chance to play tennis in front of a large crowd. In that sense, one of the dreams of the Japanese world of wheelchair tennis came true. It was one big step toward the para-sport taking firm root in Japan as a game to be watched as a spectator sport.

Sanada fulfilled his role as the second player for the Japanese team

Many spectators were there for a chance to see Kunieda play

*World rankings are all as of May 23, 2016

text by Tomoko Sakai
photo by AFLO SPORT,X-1
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