Flame-lighting wheelchair tennis star makes winning start after shocking her mother

Rio 2016 Paralympic bronze medalist Kamiji Yui has experienced an unforgettable few days at Tokyo 2020.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Wheelchair Tennis - Women's Singles First Round - Ariake Tennis Park, Tokyo, Japan - August 28, 2021. Yui Kamiji of Japan in action against Maria Florencia Moreno of Argentina . REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Wheelchair Tennis - Women's Singles First Round - Ariake Tennis Park, Tokyo, Japan - August 28, 2021. Yui Kamiji of Japan in action against Maria Florencia Moreno of Argentina . REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan’s wheelchair tennis star Kamiji Yui made a winning start to her Tokyo 2020 Paralympics competition as she defeated Argentina’s Maria Florencia Moreno at the Ariake Tennis Park on Saturday.

Rio 2016 Paralympic bronze medalist Kamiji, 27, from Akashi, has experienced an unforgettable few days at Tokyo 2020 having been one of the athletes who helped to light the flame on Tuesday and revealed that she didn’t tell her mother about her key role at the opening ceremony.

The three-time Paralympian said: “I spoke to my mum on the phone after the ceremony and she was surprised. I never told her about it (laughs). I thought it would be a fun surprise, and I was right. She was happy.”

Kamiji spoke of her pride at being asked to be one of the final torch bearers at the Olympic stadium.

“It was an honor to be one of the final torch runners. I did wonder if I was the right person, but I was happy to have been selected, so I took the offer.

“I hope it will lead to an increase in the public’s interest in wheelchair tennis.

“I saw that Naomi Osaka had been the final runner (to light the flame) for the Olympics, so that was an honor as well.”

Kamiji was due to start her Paralympics on Friday but the schedule was adjusted after matches were delayed by six hours due to the intense heat in Tokyo.

“I wouldn’t say I felt pressure, but I did feel some nervousness.

“Originally, yesterday (Friday) was supposed to be my first match, but after the schedule changed, we saw other members of team Japan do well. I wanted to continue their momentum, playing in the first match of the day, so there was nervousness there.”

The gold medal hope offered an honest assessment of her performance and hopes her win can inspire her teammates.

“I’m happy. As the first Japanese to play today, I hope my win has started a good momentum.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Wheelchair Tennis - Women's Singles First Round - Ariake Tennis Park, Tokyo, Japan - August 28, 2021. Maria Florencia Moreno of Argentina in action against Yui Kamiji of Japan. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Wheelchair Tennis - Women's Singles First Round - Ariake Tennis Park, Tokyo, Japan - August 28, 2021. Maria Florencia Moreno of Argentina in action against Yui Kamiji of Japan. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

“Moreno is a tough player who will continue to get better, and this was a match that I had looked forward to.

“I was expecting the first set to be a little more like a see-saw game with lots of rallies. But I think my serves and strokes were good, and I was able to rack up points with good tempo. In the second set, I tried to engage in more rallies and create more movement.”

The former wheelchair basketball player moves on to face Brazil’s Meirycoll Duval in the second round while also preparing for a women’s doubles quarter-final against China.

“I think only doubles matches are planned for tomorrow (Sunday), so I want to grasp the feel of the other courts here with the doubles match and fix some things that I want to change.”

Kamiji also took a moment to underline the importance of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and her hopes for the legacy of the event.

“I hope that especially children with disabilities will be inspired to start playing sports and get out there in the world. I’ll do everything I can for more people to watch us play and see what we do.

“At the London 2012 Games, I wasn’t able to progress beyond the quarterfinals, but I had great fun because it was my first Paralympic Games. At the Rio 2016 Games, I did win a bronze medal, but I can’t say that I had so much fun. More than anything, I felt frustration and disappointment. At the Tokyo 2020 Games, I will of course aim for a gold medal, but on top of that, I hope to be able to enjoy playing.”