Shingo Kunieda didn’t just leave New York with another U.S. Open wheelchair men’s single title last week. He also took away some information that might be valuable to organizers of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Kunieda held a remote meeting with Tokyo 2020 organizers on Friday afternoon and shared some of the things he experienced while competing at the Grand Slam event in New York amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was able to explain to them how I felt and about the measures that were in place at this U.S. Open,” Kunieda said during a news conference held after the meeting. “If you take the proper measures, athletes can take part in the event with peace of mind.”
A bubble setup based on what was in place at the U.S. Open — and what the NBA and NHL are currently employing — is one of the many options Tokyo 2020 organizers are considering in terms of safety.
Tokyo 2020 Games Delivery Officer Hidemasa Nakamura didn’t rule out the possibility of some sort of bubble or restriction on athlete movement. He said he was concerned about the stress athletes may feel in a bubble but was encouraged by the reports of Kunieda’s experience.
Kunieda said he mostly felt safe under the measures taken at the U.S. Open. In terms of the bubble, he said it helped take his mind off the coronavirus in some ways and that the pandemic didn’t weigh heavily on him during matches.
“When I went into my matches, I was able to focus the way I usually do,” he said. “I think that was the best thing about it.”
Kunieda said he was initially apprehensive about competing at the U.S. Open due to the virus. He wasn’t alone, with some players such as men’s star Rafael Nadal and the top two women in the world, Ash Barty and Simona Halep, skipping the event.
Kunieda met with tournament organizers, which helped assuage his fears.
“There is a lot of attention on how international events and competitions can he held,” Tokyo 2020 Sport Director Koji Murofushi said. “Regarding the U.S Open, I think we really want to use it as a reference point.”
With his mind at ease during the tournament, Kunieda, the No. 1 seed, beat Alfie Hewitt 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) in the men’s wheelchair final to claim his seventh U.S. Open crown and 24th Grand Slam title overall.
Kunieda was one of three Japanese to leave Flushing Meadows with a winner’s trophy.
Naomi Osaka won the women’s singles title for the second time while Yui Kamiji won her third U.S. Open wheelchair doubles title, her second with English partner Jordanne Whiley.