Wheelchair tennis star Yui Kamiji wants the Tokyo Paralympics to be a watershed moment for Para sport in Japan, and she hopes her prominent role as cauldron-lighter at the games' opening ceremony goes some way to achieving that.
The 27-year-old Kamiji, who is competing in her third Paralympics, said it was a great honor to be selected as one of the three athletes to light the spherical cauldron at the National Stadium on Tuesday evening.
With her profile as high as it has ever been, Kamiji, the women's singles bronze medalist at the Rio de Janeiro Games, wants to lead by example in her pursuit of a first Paralympic gold.
"I really want many people to watch the Paralympics on TV or on the internet. By being part of the torch relay, I really hope wheelchair tennis gains more and more attention," Kamiji said after playing her first match on Saturday.
Kamiji said she gave it much thought before accepting the role in the opening ceremony because she was unsure whether she was the right person for it, but she now thinks it will prove a catalyst in pushing her to play better in Tokyo.
Taking up the sport in 2004, she has been a trailblazer who has worked her way to the top of the game. She reached singles and doubles quarterfinals on her Paralympic debut in London in 2012, but came up short of reaching a final five years ago in Brazil.
"I was relieved that I was able to win a medal, and I was happy that many people talked to me after I returned to Japan, but I still have a strong memory of the feeling of disappointment I felt at the time," Kamiji said earlier this month.
"I know I sound greedy, but this time, I want to show everything that I have done until now in terms of the results and my performance during my matches. If the result is gold, that will be the best," she said.
At the opening ceremony, she took the stage along with Japanese boccia athlete Shunsuke Uchida and powerlifter Karin Morisaki.
"I was the closest person to watch the flame burn and it really moved me," Kamiji said earlier this week. "It really had a sobering effect on me, and I thought I need to do really well to play with all of my potential."
Kamiji on Saturday started her campaign in style by defeating Argentina's Maria Florencia Moreno 6-0, 6-1 at Ariake Tennis Park to book a spot in the second round.
Her biggest rival here will be top-seeded Diede de Groot and third-seeded Aniek van Koot, both of the Netherlands.
"I was really nervous," Kamiji said after her first match. "I just want to do whatever I can to prepare for my next one."