Shingo Kunieda is Passing the Baton

When he’s not busy hanging out with Demon Slayer, the Japanese legend is mentoring the next generation of wheelchair athletes

Shingo Kunieda’s athletic career saw him winning 28 grand slam singles titles and a handful of Paralympic Gold Medals, but perhaps the legacy he’s most proud of is the major shift in perception and growth of audience for the sport he helped put on the map: Wheelchair tennis.

One year after he retired from pro tennis, Racquet caught up with him on his first trip to New York as a tourist—before this year he’d only come to the city to play in the US Open—as he was being honored at the annual Japan Day parade, for which he served as Grand Marshall. In case you’re wondering, yes, that is him flanked by the cast of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba at New York’s 2024 Japan Day Parade.

“Life after retirement is longer than my career, so to find something to strive for was my goal for last year,” he said “So now I’m here teaching at the USTA teaching wheelchair players and working on my English.”

The US Paralympic Committee and NCAA created a Para-Inclusion project in 2021, giving rise to adaptive collegiate athletic programs across the US, and in 2022, the US Open was the first slam to offer wheelchair juniors, creating a massive shift in both participation and spectatorship for the sport.

Since he turned pro in 2005, Kunieda has witnessed a sea change in the sport’s popularity.

“In my generation, about 20 years ago, there were very few players, and now because of the growth of the sport—especially in the US—the player field is bigger and stronger than it has ever been, it’s exciting for me to be a part of that,” he said. “It was exciting to see Jannik Sinner try out the sport at the Miami Open earlier this year, and it is all great promotion of the sport.”

Top: Getty Images, Middle: Alan McIntyre.