2011 Year in Review: Wheelchair Tennis

December 21, 2011 04:18 PM
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
 
2011 saw triumphs and transition in the world of Wheelchair Tennis, where the United States has established itself as a perennial contender in international competition while preparing a new generation of American juniors for success. Newer names such as Mackenzie Soldan, Emmy Kaiser, Ryan Nelson and Shelby Baron are becoming well-known in wheelchair circles, while the established guard of David Wagner, Nick Taylor and Jon Rydberg continue to grab gold medals and first-place  trophies around the world. 
 
The lead story concerning Wheelchair Tennis, however, comes outside of the United States, as 19-time Grand Slam Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands announced that she is heavily considering retirement after the 2012 Paralympics in London. With the Paralympics pre-empting Wheelchair competition at the 2012 US Open, Vergeer remains unsure if she’ll still be around in two years to return to New York.
 
"There was a true feeling of pride in being part of this, and for me, some extra motivation to win (in 2011)," said Vergeer. "I don’t know if I’m going to be playing long enough to come back here again."
 
Vergeer currently owns the greatest undefeated streak in the history of tennis, if not professional sport – 434 matches without a loss – and is looking for new challenges in life. With her first Open appearance coming in 2005, Vergeer has never lost a match in Flushing Meadows. 
 
"I would like to have my own sports marketing company because I really enjoy what’s happening with the integration of disabled sports with able-bodied sports," said Vergeer after winning her sixth consecutive US Open in August over fellow Dutchwoman Aniek Van Koot. Vergeer also took home her sixth career Wheelchair Women’s Doubles title with teammate Sharon Walraven.
 
Vergeer serves as the head of the eponymous Esther Vergeer Foundation, providing athletic opportunities for disabled children to play tennis, basketball and other sports.
 
"I love the fact that the US Open, for us, is a platform where we can showcase our sport. I’d like to see how far we can take this, not only from a competition standpoint, but sponsorship and media opportunities. To me, that’s an exciting challenge."
 
The 2011 Open also saw David Wagner successfully defend his Quad Singles & Doubles (with partner Nick Taylor) crowns, defeating rival Peter Norfolk of Great Britain on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. The Texas native tearfully thanked a cheering Court 11 crowd after the match:
 
"Its hard to say what’s really going through my mind – a million things. Even with all the importance of winning the US Open, to do this on the anniversary of 9/11 is very emotional and important for me as an American. Thank you for sharing this."
 
2011 US Open Wheelchair Tennis competition winners included:
 
Men’s Singles – Shingo Kuneida, Japan
Women’s Singles – Esther Vergeer, Netherlands
Men’s Doubles – Stephane Houdet & Nicolas Peifer, France
Women’s Doubles – Esther Vergeer & Sharon Walraven, Netherlands
Quad Singles – David Wagner, United States
Quad Doubles – David Wagner & Nick Taylor, United States
 
***
 
Earlier in April, the United States participated in the 2011 World Team Cup in Tshwane, South Africa, traveling halfway around the world to test their skill against powerhouse squads from The Netherlands, Israel, Canada, Great Britain, Japan and host nation South Africa. Wagner and Taylor represented the winning Quad team, along with teammate Bryan Barten, defeating Israel in the final 2-1 to repeat as WTC champions for the second straight year.
 
Team rosters (and their placement) for the 2011 World Team Cup included:
 
Men’s - Jon Rydberg, Stephen Welch & Paul Moran (runner-up)
Women’s – Emmy Kaiser, Dana Mathewson & Kaitlyn Veufirth (eighth)
Quad – David Wagner, Nick Taylor & Bryan Barten (champions)
Juniors – Shelby Baron, Ryan Nelson & Kate Stuteville (fifth)
 
Team USA will look to defend its Quad title and gain a few more when the World Team Cup comes around next in 2012, from May 21-27 in Seoul, South Korea.
 
The 2011 season marked a seminal milestone in the life of 17-year-old Team USA Junior member Shelby Baron, competing outside of the United States for the first time in her budding career in Wheelchair Tennis: "Up until very recently, I didn't know how I compared to other wheelchair players . Before last year, I had never been out of the country - and now, to be playing in tournaments in Taipei, Thailand and now South Africa, it is such a great opportunity." Baron and Juniors teammates Ryan Nelson and Kate Stuteville would finish fifth overall. 
 
Six months later in October, Baron would return to America and take to the courts in Surprise, Ariz. for the 2011 USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships. Representing her home state and USTA section of Hawaii was a thrill for Baron, who also became the first wheelchair player ever to compete at the event.
 
"Tennis has changed me and made me more positive. My mindset is more focused on setting goals and accomplishing them," said Baron.
 
***
 
The final major event of the Wheelchair Year was November’s 2011 Parapan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, at the Complejo Telcel de Tenis. The United States sent four players - Jon Rydberg, Stephen Welch, Emmy Kaiser and Mackenzie Soldan - south of the border to participate in one of the Wheelchair circuit’s most prestigious events, which like the Paralympics, comes but once every four years. All four players participated in both singles and doubles competition, with Soldan turning in a brilliant performance by winning gold in both female divisions and not dropping a single match. In an exciting Women’s Singles final, Soldan squeaked by teammate Kaiser in three sets 1-6, 6-4. 6-4.
 
Considering the haul of medal the American foursome brought back home - three golds, one silver and one bronze in four divisions – the U.S. emerged as the big winner of the tennis competition and will likely be considered the nation to beat when ParaPanAm play returns in 2015. 
 
The final results for Team USA:
 
Mackenzie Soldan – Gold (Singles, Doubles)
Emmy Kaiser – Gold (Doubles), Silver (Singles)
Stephen Welch – Gold (Doubles), Bronze (Singles)
Jon Rydberg – Gold (Doubles)
 

Back

 
Close