Shingo Kunieda back to full strength after an injury hit 18 months

Japanese wheelchair tennis legend kicks off season with Australian Open title

Man smiling and lifting a silver trophy Shingo Kunieda lifts the trophy after winning the 2018 Australian Open in Melbourne © • Getty Images

The year is only six weeks old but it has already been a major improvement on 2017 for one of wheelchair tennis’ greats.

Shingo Kunieda was plagued with injury from the end of 2016 but has made a real statement of intent for 2018.

“I’m back to full strength now, yes! I had elbow surgery in 2016 before Rio but I couldn't play there much. So I took a rest for half a year, and then the injury was recovered,” the three-time Paralympic champion explained.

“I changed my backhand technique. So I needed time to get the new skill in 2017.”

The Japanese star and former world number one kicked off the campaign by winning the first tournament of the tour at the Sydney Super Series, before travelling to the Melbourne Open ahead of the first Grand Slam of 2018.

Kunieda was knocked out in the quarter-finals by Stephane Houdet, however, he got his revenge at the Australian Open in the following week.

With confidence oozing from his tournament victory in Sydney, Kunieda flew through the quarter and semi-final matches and into the final. Houdet managed to take the final to a deciding set tiebreaker, but the 33-year-old held off the Frenchman’s challenge to take his 41st Grand Slam title; he was back.

It was an even sweeter victory because the Japanese had not won a Grand Slam since 2016, when he partnered Gordon Reid in the doubles to win Roland Garros. His last singles Slam was even longer ago, way back in September 2015 at the US Open.

“It was unbelievable feeling to win, because I was a commentator on TV for the Australian Open in 2017 due to injury,” Kunieda recalled.

With the younger players on the tour getting stronger each year, the challenge is on the likes of Kunieda to keep pushing themselves and adapting, just like the sport has done since he started.

“Wheelchair tennis is developing year by year, so I am not satisfied to keep my level, I need to improve myself. I just think I want to be better than yesterday!”

On his aims for the rest of 2018, Kunieda has his mind firmly set on his 42nd Grand Slam when Roland Garros comes round in June. Further ahead, he is hoping to reach his best form ahead of his home Paralympic Games in Tokyo, in 2020.