My pro wheelchair tennis “career”


Playing a tournament in Queensland, Australia

I played tennis as a standing person until I was 23. At that point the stress of trying to stay on my feet outweighed the fun of playing, so I stopped, forgot about tennis, and gradually transitioned into using a wheelchair. Then one night eight years later, I saw a picture of Nick Taylor playing tennis in his electric wheelchair. I had no idea that there was such a thing as power wheelchair tennis. I immediately emailed a local tennis pro to sign up for lessons, bought a racquet, and was on the court the next day.

It sucked. I could barely get the ball over the net – and that was when I was planted right in front of the net! But I decided to set a goal that very day to get a backhand over the net from behind the baseline. In three months I could do it. During that time I also met and practiced with my friend Ernest who was also enthusiastically playing wheelchair tennis in Hawaii.

I entered my first tournament that fall — the Hawaii Wheelchair Tennis Open. I actually qualified to play in the Quad division, which you can play if you have impairment in at least one of your upper extremities in addition to your legs. But there weren’t enough Quads to play a full tournament so Ernest and I played in the Quad final. We both entered the tournament for regular wheelchair tennis players as well. I lost my first match in 25 minutes to a player from Japan. It was hot and humid, so I didn’t mind being done so quickly. It was just neat to have the umpire announce my name and that I was from the USA. It felt super official.

That was in late 2006. After that tournament I decided it was a perfect time to try and play real Quad tournaments which were all on the mainland USA. Since I could do my programming job from anywhere, I decided to give up my apartment, sell a lot of my things, and travel for most of the year playing wheelchair tennis. That’s exactly what happened.

Playing in AZ. It would have been nice if someone had told me I was playing with the bright orange baggage claim ticket on my wheelchair the entire match.

Prior to leaving Hawaii on the really long stretch, I played a weekend tournament in Tucson, AZ. I lost all my matches but the trip confirmed that I was making the right decision to travel and play tennis. I loved it. So after a few months back in Hawaii, I flew to Georgia to pick up an accessible van, then drove down to Pensacola, Florida, for my first tournament. Then I hit tournaments in Boca Raton, Baton Rouge, Atlanta, New York City, Sacramento, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, Hilton Head, and San Diego. I had wanted to play in the Quad “A” division which was for newer players. There were never enough entries so I was always bumped up to the “Open” division where all the amazing players were. I don’t think they minded me in the draw, however, because it was usually an easy win. I didn’t mind it either because it was a challenge.

I didn’t win a single Quad match, but the entire summer was awesome! I put 20,000 miles on my car, met a ton of new people, and saw a lot of new places. Occasionally I won prize money just for showing up. I also got two ranking points just for entering each tournament. It was neat to have a world ranking. I also didn’t mind losing early in the tournaments because it meant I could go sight seeing in all the neat places I was. I got to see the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, San Diego Wild Animal Park, a San Diego Padres game, the beaches in Florida, Stone Mountain in Georgia, and many more things.

Giraffes in the road on our mini-safari

In late summer, I found really cheap fares to South Africa where there happened to be a few tournaments in November/December. I decided to go. By myself. I flew 20 hours to Johannesburg, RSA, where I roomed with friends from Australia. I got a great draw for my first match, and finally won! Of course I got killed in the second round, but that didn’t matter to me.

In between tournaments, the Australians invited me to an overnight excursion to a game reserve. We had amazing accommodations and a half-day mini-safari where I got to see all sorts of animals — giraffes, rhinos, elephants, you name it. They even had lions and the hippos were in the pond right next to the restaurant so we’d be eating and a hippo would be right outside the window.

After playing another tournament in South Africa, I flew 36 hours all the way back to Hawaii where I spent the winter.

The covered court in Livorno, Italy where I won a match.

The following summer, in 2008, I hit a bunch of the same tournaments in the U.S. and took another trip overseas to Livorno, Italy, where I won my 2nd career match. It was enough to vault me up to #47 in the world rankings. I won’t tell you how many ranked players there were at the time because then that number will seem utterly unimpressive! But it sounded nice to say I was Top 50 in the world! I also entered the Hawaii tournament again and got a great doubles draw. Together with my friend Jeff, I made the doubles final. We got killed 6-0, 6-0 in that match.

In 2009 I took my last big wheelchair tennis trip and went down to Australia where I played two events and visited places like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide. I watched the Australian Open as a spectator and even finally got to play a match against they guy who motivated me to start playing tennis again — Nick Taylor. It was 100 degrees and there were wildfires burning only a few miles away from where the tournament was. I’d never been happier to lose in 20 minutes. Nick won all the points, except for one. It was a nice short drop shot, even if I do say so myself. I left Australia with a career high doubles ranking of #27 (which I am convinced is a mathematical error).

Watching Venus Williams at the Australian Open

Then once the tennis was done I took a cruise around New Zealand and went back home. Later that summer I played “down” a division at the 2009 U.S. Wheelchair Tennis Open. The “A” division is where I should have been playing all along, but for whatever reason there were never enough “A” players at events so I was playing in the “Open” division. This time there were enough “A” players to have a draw. I won all four of my round-robin matches and won the tournament. I also partnered with a guy from the Carolinas and we won doubles. So now I have two USTA “Gold Balls” that say I won the U.S. Open. :)

That was the last tournament I played. I play recreationally now, but I will probably play an event again someday — maybe once I pay off my credit cards which still have hotels, flights, and gas charges on them from my big trip. But it was worth it!

For more information about wheelchair tennis check out the ITF Wheelchair Tennis site or the USTA Wheelchair Tennis site.

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One Response to My pro wheelchair tennis “career”

  1. Mika says:

    Thank you for sharing your story!

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