Kunieda, Oda Advance On Wheelchair Competition's Opening Day

Japan is a proud wheelchair tennis nation, with three men currently among the world's Top 6 and three women in the Top 10. Shingo Kunieda, the 28-time Grand Slam singles champion, leads the Japanese men at World No. 2, followed by 16-year-old Tokito Oda at No. 5 and Takuya Miki at No. 6.

On Thursday, all three advanced to the semi-finals — alongside Shogo Takano — as the Rakuten Japan Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships began in Tokyo.

Top seed Kunieda dominated in a 6-0, 6-0 victory against Tomoya Tachi as he seeks to repeat his title run from 2019, the wheelchair tournament's inaugural event. It was his first professional match in Japan since he won Olympic gold at the same Ariake Tennis Park venue last summer.

"I'm very excited to play at the Rakuten Open," the 38-year-old said post-match. "This is a good opportunity to promote our sport. I think a lot of people were watching my tennis last year [at the Olympics] on TV. I felt that people want to watch more than ever before.

"Now we have the brilliant young junior [Oda], and Miki is in the Top 6. It's a very high level. I want to show this top level to the spectators."

Kunieda will face Miki in the semi-finals after his 6-2, 6-3 win against Satoshi Saida.

In the bottom half of the draw, Oda lived up to his billing as the second seed with a battling 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory against Daisuke Arai. After competing at this event in 2019 as a 13-year-old, he earned his first win to advance to the 2022 semi-finals.

"Three years ago was my first time to play [alongside] the ATP Tour. I was so nervous to play and come here. Now I can keep going and my tennis now is better than three years ago."

As the leading star in the next generation of Japanese wheelchair tennis, Oda has a golden opportunity to learn from his older countrymen as he continues to work hard to improve his game.

"Of course we have many Japanese people on the Tour. I've had a good experience with them," he said. "Shingo is one of the best players in the world, so I could learn from him. I would be so excited to play in the final against him."

The wheelchair singles final will be held on Saturday on centre stage in the Ariake Colosseum. In order to reach that stage, Oda must get past Takano, who outlasted wild card Yudai Kawai 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-3.

Oda also advanced to the the final in the doubles competition, teaming with Kawai for a 6-0, 6-1 win against Youta Etori and Tachi.

Photo Credit: Hiroshi Sato