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De Groot finds motivation in Kunieda's "crazy" career

  • Alex Sharp

Shingo Kunieda inspired people across the world for two decades at the very top with his legendary longevity and dedication to wheelchair tennis.

The Japanese star, who lifted 28 singles and 22 doubles Grand Slams, called time on his stellar career on Sunday

Diede de Groot, also one of the all-time greats, continues to draw motivation from Kunieda's career. 

"I have mixed feelings about it. I'm sad that he's leaving because he's been such an inspiration, he's such a good guy to have on tour," De Groot told

"Also his achievements, but I also totally understand after so many years he's happy, achieved it all and he's earned a rest."

Diede de Groot was a convincing victor in opening-round action on Tuesday (Getty Images)

The 26-year-old, two-time defending champion at Melbourne Park, has 16 singles majors to her name. Could she catch Kunieda?

"I only hope to come just a little bit close. What he's done is amazing. A lot of people don't realise how many years his level has evolved," continued the women's wheelchair world No.1.

"When he started to now, so many young guys trying to catch up with him. He was still trying to improve and to be the best. It's crazy."

De Groot opened her Australian Open 2023 title tilt on Tuesday with 6-1 6-1 result over Kgothatso Montjane to book a quarterfinal with world No.8 Momoko Ohtani.

MORE: All the scores from Day 9 at AO 2023

"I'm very happy, I played at a level I can work with for the next round," added the Dutchwoman. 

"I just can just try to keep improving and to enjoy. I did today, it was really nice to be back on KIA Arena with a lot of people in the stands. It felt good to be here."

In the past two years De Groot has compiled mind-boggling dominance, with calendar Grand Slams in 2021 and 2022.

"Over the years I've gained so much experience, so much trust in my game," continued the world No.1, explaining her Grand Slam superiority.

"I think the most difficult thing is the expectation. Not only everyone around, especially yourself. You know you can do it, so you can do it again. You have to get the motivation, try to improve. The goal isn't to win a Grand Slam, it's how you perform on court in a Grand Slam. 

"Like today, I can look at first serves in and try to beat that next round. I have a new wheelchair coming after Australian Open which I'm very excited about, as that lets you experiment in your game. It's about having projects, tackling one at a time."

Dutch tennis continues to thrive across the disciplines, and De Groot hails the team mentality at their National Tennis Centre just south of Amsterdam.

Just like Kunieda boosting De Groot, the formidable 26-year-old wants to inspire future generations, too. 

"We are completely included into the KLNTB program. We play and train at the same courts, we use the same gym and see all of the top guys there. It's really helpful for us to share that kind of atmosphere," added De Groot. 

"It gives you the feeling that you're appreciated, that you're taken seriously. 

"Holland is very small. The opportunity to train together and learn from each other is very easy. We also have a lot of fun which helps produce good vibes. 

"We come together almost every day, juniors are on the same courts as the senior players and hopefully we can continue the flow of generations." 

De Groot's Dutch compatriots Aniek van Koot and Jiske Griffioen, both former champions at Melbourne Park, opened their singles campaigns with clinical straight-sets displays on Tuesday. 

Elsewhere, No.2 seed Yui Kamiji laid out her intentions with a 6-0 6-0 dismissal of Brit Lucy Shuker. 

Over to the Quad division, where top seed Niels Vink scorched 24 winners to dismiss Brazil's Ymanitu Silva 6-1 6-0 before signing a long line of autographs. 

"I was very nervous to play in front of a lot of people on here," admitted Vink on MCA. 

"When the match started I really enjoyed it with a really good level. I just need to play my own game and stay focused."

Vink made a near-perfect start to his AO 2023 campaign (Getty Images)

New world No.1 Alfie Hewett, elevated to the top spot following Kunieda's retirement, dominated Daisuke Arai 6-1 6-0 to set up a quarterfinal clash with doubles partner Gordon Reid.

No.2 seed Gustavo Fernandez began his pursuit for a third Australian Open crown 6-3 6-2 against Ruben Spaargaren. 

The youngest player in the men's draw, Tokito Oda, is off the mark. The 16-year-old managed to keep his opener to straight sets at 6-1 7-5 versus Casey Ratzlaff.