split image of Shingo Kunieda with his certificates and playing wheelchair tennis

After winning gold at the Paralympics in Tokyo and winning the US Open in 2021, Japanese wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda has in turn has broken three of his own Guinness World Record titles.

  • Most Paralympic wheelchair tennis singles titles won (male):3
  • Most Grand Slam wheelchair tennis titles won:46
  • Most Grand Slam wheelchair tennis singles titles won (male):25

After his incredible year, we were fortunate enough to speak with him to ask about his latest achievements, his motivations and more.

How do you feel now after winning both the Paralympics and the US Open?

Although this was my fifth time competing in the Paralympics, doing it this year in Tokyo was special, and to win gold at home was the best win in my life so far.

I'm also really happy to have won the US Open after a great win already in hand.

Most Paralympic wheelchair tennis singles titles won vertical

What is it like to break Guinness World Records titles?

When I'm playing, I don't think about it too much, but I can let this good feeling sink in once the games are over. 

Every time, I think to myself this might be the last Grand Slam win, but when I do it again, I feel both relieved and happy at the same time.

Have you recovered now after the US Open?

I've recovered now, but I was extremely tired when I was playing in the US. 

Even 40 minutes prior to the finals, I was falling asleep by just by closing my eyelids for a moment. I want to pat myself on the back for winning under those conditions.

When did you set your sights on the Paralympics?

I feel that the loss in the Rio Paralympics lead to my Tokyo Paralympics win. After the loss in 2016, I changed my technique, my wheelchair, coaches and trainers - everything. 

The five-year culmination of starting anew was the Tokyo Paralympics. As the press coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic games increased, the pressure started mounting on me. 

In terms of preparations, I worked especially hard on the psychological aspects. What mindset should I have during the game and how to maintain it. An intense pressure can get you more during the Paralympics, and I knew from experience that this would be one of the keys to doing well there. 

I contacted psychologist and Peak Performance Specialist Ann Quinn almost on a daily basis.

I wish for a society where the words like diversity and inclusion disappear. I feel it would be good for the world to not have to think about these kinds of things. That would, in turn, be a truly diverse society, in my opinion. I personally don't think about all that when I'm on the court, and I feel it's healthy if people just enjoy the matches for the sport. - Shingo Kunieda 

What's the key to your continued success?

The players around me are getting better every year, but I'm improving just as much, if not better, than others. I'm definitely a better player than when I was competing in Rio and London, and I have more tactical varieties now. 

My mind can cope with a whole range of situations. These sorts of improvements as a player, I believe, are bringing in results.

Shingo Kunieda 2020 shutterstock

You've been playing for more than 20 years now. Has the world of wheelchair tennis changed?

When I started, even someone like me, who is in a wheelchair, didn't know such a sport existed. The word "Paralympics" didn't ring a bell for many people either. It was also impossible to know what kind of players existed and what their playing styles were. There was no TV broadcast of it and we didn't have YouTube back then. 

There is a huge difference in terms of the amount of information available to people. Nowadays, most people know about the Paralympics. Things have certainly changed in 20-odd years.

What do you think of Guinness World Records' new impairment classifications?

I think it's fantastic. Opportunities for a whole range of people to compete for Guinness World Record titles in itself can only be a good thing.

What message would you give to those who want to attempt a record?

I built my career thinking that you've got to give it a shot, and nothing begins unless you try. 

Even if you think it's impossible, you've got to take that first step. For me, that first step led to being a world champion, and your first step may lead to becoming a record holder. That's why I urge you first to give it a go.

Header image credit: Right - Shingo Kunieda, left - Shutterstock