Grand Slam-winning wheelchair tennis star Kamiji on the rise

The Yomiuri Shimbun

During the recent US Open, almost all the attention was focused on Kei Nishikori becoming the first Asian man to finish as the runner-up in a Grand Slam singles event. At the same time, Yui Kamiji was on a remarkable roll, winning both the wheelchair women's singles and doubles titles at the tournament. And she did it all in somewhat of a minor role as Nishikori grabbed all the headlines.

In fact, this year has been unforgettable for the 20-year-old. She won her first Grand Slam title in doubles at the Australian Open in January. And she stayed hot, sweeping the doubles events at the three other major tournaments to complete a calendar Grand Slam.

In singles, she also won the French Open in June, and was the runner-up at the Australian Open. All the success has seen her rise to the No. 1 ranking in the world in both singles and doubles.

In the singles semifinals of the US Open, Kamiji lost 6-3 in the first set to Jiske Griffioen of the Netherlands. But the top-seeded Kamiji rallied to take the second set 6-2, and cruised in the deciding set 6-3. In the final, she wiped out Aniek van Koot, also a Dutch player, in straight sets (6-3, 6-3). Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley of Britain teamed up to beat the Griffioen-van Koot duo in the doubles final in three sets (6-4, 3-6, 6-3).

"I was able to win the titles [at the US Open] because of the mental preparation I went through that has helped me battle through and overcome difficult situations that arise during matches," Kamiji said upon returning home from the US Open.

"I would be delighted if people consider taking up tennis after watching me play."

Inspiring experience

Kamiji, a native of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, was born with a spinal cord disorder. She started playing tennis when she was 11.

Kamiji said she was so active that she has "had a sports-specific wheelchair since I was a young kid that I used for shopping and running around."

She usually practices at an Izumi-Sano, Osaka Prefecture-based tennis club, to which she drives 1½ hours on her own almost every weekday. Slide 1 of 1

Yui Kamiji receives a bouquet from Fusaho Izumi, mayor of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture -her hometown - at the Akashi city hall on Sept. 22.

Kamiji usually practices with male players as the nationwide number of females in wheelchair tennis remains low. However, she has taken advantage of this disadvantage; practicing with male counterparts has helped her develop powerful shots and techniques that have made her quicker in her wheelchair.

Kamiji won the All-Japan Wheelchair Tennis Masters for the first time in 2008. She took part in her first Paralympics as a high school student at the London Games in 2012, reaching the last eight in singles and doubles.

Before the Paralympics, Kamiji had made up her mind to make the Games the last event of her career. In London, however, she found taking on the top players at a venue full of cheering fans was too intriguing to walk away from.

"That atmosphere made me feel like playing more matches at a place like that," she recalled.

Kamiji was also inspired a year after the London Games, when Tokyo was chosen to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

As a step toward the Tokyo 2020, Kamiji will compete at the Asian Para Games in Incheon, South Korea, starting Saturday. The event serves as a qualifier for the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.

"My goal is to win a medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics," Kamiji said. "And at the Tokyo Games six years from now, I hope to compete in front of those who have supported me."