Wheelchair tennis star Shingo Kunieda sets sights on third Paralympic singles gold

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Shingo Kunieda, the world’s top-ranked wheelchair tennis player, is a man on a mission at the Tokyo Paralympics, looking to win a third singles gold medal and expand the world’s understanding of what parasports can be.

In 2012, Kunieda became the first player to successfully defend the Paralympic men’s singles title, but a troublesome right elbow contributed to a quarterfinal exit at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

The 37-year-old Tokyo native is confident he can put to rest the unhappy memories from five years ago by winning gold at the Tokyo Paralympics, which open Tuesday.

“I feel like I’m in a good place, so I want to get the job done properly, one match at a time,” Kunieda said.

Widely considered the greatest men’s wheelchair tennis player ever, Kunieda had envisioned winding down his career following a third consecutive Paralympic singles crown in 2016.

But after falling far short of his own expectations in Rio, Kunieda fought on, telling himself, “It can’t end like this.”

After taking time to recuperate, Kunieda returned to the tour in April 2017 with a new outlook, changing coaches and searching for backhand techniques that put less strain on his body. His labors bore fruit in the form of two Grand Slam titles in 2018.

Kunieda, who strongly believes in “proving the value of the Paralympics,” believes he is now poised to put on the type of show that will win new fans for parasports.

“I’ve been preparing to do my best. My performances will, I think, positively surpass people’s image of sports for the disabled,” Kunieda said.

In addition to being one of his country’s strongest medal hopes, Kunieda also bears the responsibility of captaining Japan’s delegation. The veteran believes his performance on the court is central to that role.

“I’ll start by focusing on my own results, which will hopefully impart good momentum to Japan,” he said.

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