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At the US Open, wheelchair tennis takes center stage
Thursday marks the beginning of wheelchair and quad tournaments, with two doubles matches opening Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Published Sep 05, 2019
The US Open is more than just singles, doubles and juniors. The wheelchair and quad tournaments showcase some of the most dedicated players in the sport, with stories as incredible as their shotmaking.
These events are the focus of this story; to learn more about wheelchair tennis, head to Wheelchair Tennis Central, sponsored by Deloitte.
On Thursday night at the US Open, the women’s singles finalists will be determined inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. The storyline possibilities are rich, no matter the outcomes: Serena Williams could earn another shot at playing for a record 24th major title; Top 5 mainstay Elina Svitolina could reach her first major final; Bianca Andreescu’s astonishing rookie year could become even greater; Belinda Bencic, whose last Grand Slam quarterfinal came five years ago in Flushing Meadows, could make good on her early career promise.
But if storylines are what you seek, you should pay attention to Ashe earlier in the day. The first balls struck on the biggest court in tennis will come off the racquets of Diede De Groot and Aniek Van Koot, and their opponents, Giulia Capocci and Yui Kamiji.
“Everyone has a story,” says Joanne Wallen, Wheelchair US Open Tournament Director, “because of what they’ve had to overcome.”
Wheelchair doubles is one of the best products of the entire US Open, says Wallen, hence their prime placement. A second wheelchair doubles match will follow on Ashe, on a day when Court 17 and Court 5 will also feature wheelchair and quad tennis competition. Dylan Alcott, who will attempt to win two quad Grand Slams at this year’s Open, begins his quest against American Bryan Barten; Dana Mathewson, who enters the tournament fresh off success at last week’s Parapan American Games, will compete in doubles alongside Holland’s Marjolein Buis.
The second Thursday of the US Open may be the home stretch of a marathon for the 128-player singles draws, but in the wheelchair division, it marks the beginning of a sprint to the titles.
“I sit in the crowd a lot and listen to what people are saying,” Wallen says. “They go, Wow. They’re watching how the players are hitting the ball, and they’re watching how they move, and they realize that it’s so difficult.”
Not everyone needs convincing. Deloitte, the nearly 175-year-old professional services network, is a presenting sponsor of the US Open wheelchair competition. When one of its employees sat in a wheelchair and attempted to volley with Mathewson, she instantly realized how challenging seemingly basic strokes are, and how much training each player puts into their game.
In wheelchair tennis, players are permitted two bounces before they must hit the ball, but all other rules remain the same. Players often turn their backs to the court in order to get in position for their next shot, which can be disorienting to see at first. But after an extended viewing, the focus tends to shift away from the differences between the wheelchair game and the able-bodied game, and go toward their similarities.
“When you first watch someone play in a wheelchair, you’re watching them, and their movement,” Wallen says. “After you get used to it, you stop looking at them, and start looking at the points. And the points are identical to an able-bodied point—how they play it, whether they’re pulling their opponent and looking to move in.”
There are four wheelchair events at the US Open—singles and doubles, for men and women—and two quad events, in singles and doubles. (Quad athletes have a permanent physical disability and significant loss of function in at least three of their extremities.) Eight players compete in each singles wheelchair event; four teams compete in the doubles events. The quad singles tournament is a round-robin competition between four players; the quad doubles title will be determined in one, winners-take-all match.
Since Deloitte has sponsored the event, prize money has increased, and the competitors are supported in a variety of promotional means. The USTA has also increased its focus on wheelchair tennis. In 2019, more than 100 coaches who had never previously been trained in the discipline were trained.
“Wheelchair tennis has been included in every single conversation, company wide,” Wallen says.
TenniStory: USTA Wheelchair
No matter who prevails in these competitions, each player is an inspiration that anyone, able-bodied or not, can look up to. Over the next four days, what must be overcome are forehands and backhands, being pulled wide off the court by an opponent’s accuracy, and the pressure that comes with Grand Slam competition. You can be sure that No. 1 seed Gustavo Fernandez—who, like Alcott, is also vying to win a calendar-year Grand Slam—will feel the moment.
“When people come watch,” Wallen says, “they see what an amazing sport it is.”
In this sense, the wheelchair players opening Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday, and the able-bodied players closing it, will feel the exact same things. At the US Open, wheelchair players are treated exactly like Roger Federer is off the court, because they experience the same things he or Serena does on it.
Thursday, Sept 5: Men's and Women's Doubles; Quad Singles
Friday, Sept. 6: Men's and Women's Singles; Quad Singles
Saturday, Sept. 7: Men's and Women's Singles Semifinals and Doubles Finals; Quad Singles and Quad Doubles Finals
Sunday, Sept. 8: Men's, Women's and Quads Singles Finals
Wake up every morning with Tennis Channel Live at the US Open, starting at 8 a.m. ET. For three hours leading up to the start of play, Tennis Channel's team will break down upcoming matches, review tournament storylines and focus on everything Flushing Meadows.
Tennis Channel's encore, all-night match coverage will begin every evening at 11 p.m. ET, with the exception of earlier starts on Saturday and Sunday of championship weekend.