Japan's Oda becomes youngest Grand Slam men's wheelchair champion

Japanese tennis player Oda Tokito has won the French Open men's wheelchair singles title, becoming the youngest winner of a Grand Slam tournament in the category.

At age 17, Oda is the youngest winner of a men's Grand Slam title since wheelchair competition opened to professional players in 1968.

Oda beat the world number-one-ranked Alfie Hewett of Britain 6-1, 6-4 in the final on Saturday.

Oda had been ranked number two, but rises to top spot following his victory. That makes him the youngest-ever men's wheelchair world No.1.

Former champion Kunieda has high expectations for Oda

Oda Tokito speaks to NHK in an interview in Paris on June 10.

"I hope more people will enjoy watching wheelchair tennis, just like soccer and baseball. That really motivates me. I want wheelchair tennis to become a major sport, and will always do my best," Oda said in an interview with NHK after the final.

Oda is the second Japanese wheelchair tennis player to win a Grand Slam title in the men's singles category, after Kunieda Shingo, who retired in January with a record 28 titles.

Kunieda has high expectations for Oda. He says he believes Oda has the potential to become a leader in creating a new style of wheelchair tennis, rather than becoming Kunieda's successor.

"I am looking forward to seeing how he develops going forward," Kunieda said.

Former wheelchair tennis champion Kunieda Shingo speaks to NHK in an interview on June 10.

When Oda was asked what he thinks about being called Kunieda's successor, he replied, "I feel some pressure. But I have been thinking that I am just Oda Tokito."

He added, "By playing the sport, I want to achieve a level where everybody knows wheelchair tennis, as well as Oda Tokito."

Passing on encouragement to a new generation

Oda was born in the central Japanese prefecture of Aichi. He started playing wheelchair tennis on a doctor's suggestion, after bone cancer was discovered in his left leg at age 9.

Oda has been wheelchair-bound since bone cancer was discovered in his left leg at age 9.

As he struggled with the illness, he was inspired by Kunieda at the London Paralympic Games in 2012, giving him a goal in life. He says he wants to encourage children with illness in the same way he himself was cheered on by Kunieda's performance.

Oda meets with fans at a tennis club in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, on March 26.

"Some people take their struggle with illness negatively, and I felt this way in the past, and even now I sometimes feel this way. But I have no such feelings at all when I am playing wheelchair tennis," Oda said.

Oda believes his accomplishment at a Grand Slam tournament can encourage children coping with illness in hospital.

"I think if people have one thing that they can put their effort into, they can use it to their advantage."