Jul 7, 2022 - Sports

Shingo Kunieda's quest to win elusive Wimbledon title

Shingo Kunieda swings his racket at the 2019 Wimbledon Singles Final.

Shingo Kunieda during the 2019 Wimbledon Singles Final. Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal aren't the only tennis legends in action at Wimbledon this week.

Driving the news: Japan's Shingo Kunieda, the greatest wheelchair tennis player of all time, began his quest this morning to fill the only remaining gap on his résumé: winning the Wimbledon singles title.

The big picture: Kunieda, 38, lost the use of his legs to a tumor at age 9; by 22, he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

  • He's won 27 Grand Slam singles titles (no other man has more than five) and 21 Grand Slam doubles titles, including three at Wimbledon even as the singles crown eludes him.
  • "I wish very, very much to win [the singles title] and I will prepare … with everything in my power," Kunieda told the Wall Street Journal.

Between the lines: There's a reasonable explanation for Kunieda's goose egg at the All England Club: The singles event didn't exist until 2016.

  • Grass and wheels don't mix well — it takes "three times more power" to push a chair along grass, says Kunieda — so organizers were hesitant to introduce a singles tournament.
  • They reached a tipping point six years ago as the sport grew in popularity and players — who now use harder tires and larger front wheels on grass — got better.

The backdrop: Wheelchair tennis has been around since 1976 when a skier named Brad Parks was paralyzed.

  • Parks and his therapist began playing tennis in specially designed chairs with the same rules that exist today: two bounces allowed.
  • By 1985, the inaugural international event — the World Team Cup — was held with six teams. This year's Cup featured 44.

What to watch: Kunieda is part of an eight-man field playing for a $191,000 purse.

Go deeper