Japan's Shingo Kunieda, one of the greatest wheelchair tennis players of all time, said Tuesday during his retirement press conference that his career could not have gone any better.
"I can clearly tell fans that I had the best tennis career," said the 38-year-old, who announced his retirement in late January while at the top of the world rankings.
"Winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics was the best moment of my career. I still get emotional when I look at pictures from that time."
Kunieda won his third Paralympic singles gold in Tokyo in 2021 and completed his career Grand Slam by winning Wimbledon last year.
In Grand Slam tournaments, he claimed 28 singles and 22 doubles titles.
Asked to comment on the prestigious People's Honor Award the Japanese government is considering giving him, Kunieda said, "I feel it is a great honor to see wheelchair tennis, and what I've been doing, receive the highest possible recognition."
Kunieda began using a wheelchair at 9 years old as the result of a spinal tumor. He took up tennis at age 11 at the advice of his mother.
Kunieda, who hails from Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, first rose to world No. 1 in 2006 and spent 582 weeks at the top rank during his career.
"The International Tennis Federation organizes wheelchair tennis, and there is no boundary between tennis and wheelchair tennis now," Kunieda said. "I received a big response from so many people to my Tokyo Paralympic victory, and I began to think my battle to make people recognize wheelchair tennis is over."
"I'm glad the groundwork has been laid. I'll probably continue my promotional activities for this sport."
Thoughts of retirement came to mind when Kunieda won his first Wimbledon crown last July, completing his career Grand Slam.
Two months later, he finished runner-up to Britain's Alfie Hewett at the U.S. Open.
"After the U.S. Open, I unconsciously began telling myself, 'I've done enough,'" Kunieda said. "And then I asked myself if I should continue playing tennis."
Kunieda also revealed that the level of play in wheelchair tennis has been improving every year.
"I'm sure I can now beat the person I was at the time I just turned pro," Kunieda said. "When I was world No. 2 or 3, I only needed to think how I could beat the top-ranked player. But after I rose to the top, I kept looking for room to improve within myself."
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