50 Years, 50 Heroes: David Wagner, 2007

by: Nina Pantic | December 21, 2018

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For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Anything can happen in Davis Cup. The honor of the coin flip went to American wheelchair tennis player David Wagner. If you have never watched wheelchair tennis, I urge you to see the strength and spirit of these tremendous athletes. –Karen Flax-Jardine / December 2007

Every wheelchair tennis player has a story to tell. For David Wagner, he picked up tennis in college before a freak accident at a beach left him paralyzed from the mid-chest down. With limited function of his hands, Wagner found a way to keep playing the sport he loved by taping a racquet to his hand.

The challenges that are faced and overcome by wheelchair players with each ball bounce are jaw-dropping. While able-bodied players come to a stop before making contact with the ball, wheelchair players must be constantly in motion to maintain the momentum of their chair.

They’re repeatedly executing fluid, 360-degree turns to maneuver around the court. All of this is happening before the actual shot, which they’re hitting while in a tight, seated position. While you’re watching a wheelchair match, you’ll often find yourself thinking, I couldn’t possibly do that.

Wagner is one of the absolute best at what he does. The 44-year-old has won six wheelchair singles titles and 18 doubles Grand Slam titles, as well as eight Paralympic medals. He’s reached No. 1 in the world in both singles and doubles.

Becoming one of the best in wheelchair tennis is impressive enough, but Wagner is just as driven to promote the sport that’s given him so much. He goes out of his way to participate in wheelchair camps around the world to teach the game.

“I want to give that enjoyment that I’ve received from wheelchair tennis back to others who are just starting,” he says. “It’s been life-changing for me. Something that I would always hope that I will never take for granted is to be able to give back to the sport.”

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