Photo/Illutration Shingo Kunieda formally announces his retirement from professional wheelchair tennis at a news conference held in Tokyo’s Koto Ward on Feb. 7. (Takeshi Iwashita)

Shingo Kunieda recalled the first words he uttered while celebrating with teammates on a grass court at Wimbledon in July last year.

“This is it. I’m retiring.”

The wheelchair tennis player’s victory at Wimbledon was the final piece in his quest for a Lifetime Golden Slam: winning all four Grand Slam tournaments and a Paralympic gold.

“I have no unfinished business in terms of competition achievements and winning titles,” Kunieda, 38, said at a Feb. 7 news conference in Tokyo to officially announce his retirement. “I have lived the best tennis life.”

Ranked No. 1 in the world, Kunieda won 28 Grand Slam men’s singles titles and three Paralympic gold medals.

He has been committed to the sport since he was 11 years old, two years after a spinal tumor paralyzed his lower body.

He said on Feb. 7 that the exact moment when he realized it was “the end” of his career was immediately after he claimed the long-elusive Wimbledon championship.

He soon started to repeatedly say to himself and others, “I’ve done enough already.”


Kunieda retires as the most decorated wheelchair tennis player in history.

Of all his accomplishments, he said his best memory was winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics in summer 2021.

“I had eight years of chasing my dream from the second Tokyo won the bid to host the Games in 2013,” he said. “I still quiver looking at the pictures (of the dream coming true). It was the culmination of my career.”

Kunieda’s career has developed in parallel with the course of parasports in Japan.

In 2009, he turned pro, a rare thing for Japanese para-athletes to do at the time.

Breaking the barrier between “sports” and “parasports” has been a driving force throughout his career.

Kunieda wanted wheelchair tennis to be more recognized, accepted and treated “just as a sport.”

He took home a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

“But newspapers didn’t run it even in their sports sections,” he recalled.

As a Paralympian, he knew the Games needed to be elevated.

“The (mission) of the Paralympics is hailed as realizing an inclusive society. But in order to achieve that, the Paralympics must provide inspiration and excitement to people in the way of sports,” Kunieda said. “And finally, I felt that at the Tokyo Games.”

Kazunari Obuchi, a policy director of the Sasakawa Sports Foundation, said Kunieda has been an ambassador not only for wheelchair tennis but also for all Japanese parasports.

“Kunieda has been the one and only figure in terms of recognizability,” Obuchi said.

Yamaha Motor Foundation for Sports, an organization based in Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture, conducted a recognizability survey after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.

Thirty-four percent of respondents said they either “know about” or “have heard about” Kunieda.

Only 14.8 percent said the same about the second most recognized Paralympian.

In a similar survey conducted after the Tokyo Paralympics, the figure for Kunieda jumped to 45.2 percent, way ahead of the 22.5 percent for the second para-athlete.

“There is no other Paralympian known by about half of the people in Japan,” Obuchi said. “He has been a symbol of all para-athletes, beyond the bounds of sports.”

Obuchi praised Kunieda’s sweeping achievements and recognizability, saying they changed the way people view parasports.

Kunieda also felt he had accomplished his mission off the court.

“Now, everybody knows about the Paralympics and wheelchair tennis,” he said at the news conference. “The times have changed indeed.”

(This article was compiled from reports by Kosuke Inagaki and Takaaki Fujino.)