Shingo Kunieda, widely regarded as the greatest player in the history of wheelchair tennis, received the People's Honor Award from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.

"This is a testament to the greater recognition the Paralympics now has," the 39-year-old Kunieda said as he attended the presentation ceremony at the premier's office with his wife Ai, and his mother, Tamano. "I would really appreciate it if this helped to create a more hospitable environment for the sport."

Wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda (L) receives the People's Honor Award from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the premier's office in Tokyo on March 17, 2023. (Kyodo)

Kunieda announced his retirement in January while at the top of the world rankings.

The Chiba Prefecture native won his third Paralympic singles gold medal in Tokyo in 2021 before completing his career "Golden Slam" with a Wimbledon victory in 2022.

He boasts 28 singles and 22 doubles Grand Slam titles.

The wheelchair tennis player has "made an outstanding contribution to the development of the sport," Kishida said. "He has brought dreams and excitement to the people of Japan, as well as hope and courage."

Kunieda began using a wheelchair at the age of 9 as the result of a spinal tumor and took up tennis in his final year of elementary school on the advice of his mother.

He became the 28th recipient of the award, established in 1977. It has been given to 27 individuals and one group for achievements in sports, entertainment and culture.

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