Tennis legend Kazuko Yoshida among Japan’s persons of cultural merit

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Kazuko Yoshida (nee Sawamatsu) is seen on a tennis court in 2004.

A former professional tennis player is among this year’s 20 persons of cultural merit as announced by the government on Tuesday, ahead of the Nov. 3 Culture Day.

“I’m very surprised and honored,” said Kazuko Yoshida, nee Sawamatsu, who set many records. “I’ve been doing my best, however much I can, to aid the development of the tennis world.”

Born in 1951 in Hyogo Prefecture, she grew up in a household of tennis players. At 16, she became the then youngest person to win the All Japan Tennis Championships. Her weapon was a steady, peerless stroke combined with rock-solid defense.

Nearly unbeatable on home soil, she holds the record for winning 192 matches in a row in Japan.

In 1975, she became the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam, taking home the Wimbledon women’s doubles title with American Ann Kiyomura.

“People around me looked more excited than I was,” she said. “I was just out of it because I couldn’t believe it.”

After retirement, she worked on developing women sports instructors while also putting efforts into supporting and strengthening wheelchair tennis, mainly at the Yoshida Memorial Tennis Training Center founded by her husband. Among those who have trained there is Shingo Kunieda, who has won four Paralympic gold medals, including at the Tokyo Games last year.

The center’s principle is to enrich one’s life through tennis no matter the gender, age or physical ability.

“As I continue my activities,” she said, “I’d be happy if I can stay true to this principle.”