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WHEELCHAIR

ROOKIES STROUD, ANDERSON A PAIR FOR THE AGES

ANDERSTROUD
Conner Stroud, 14, and Anthony Anderson, 48, made their BNP Paribas World Team Cup debuts for Team USA this week. As the youngest and oldest team members, the two rookies share two passions above all else: family and tennis.
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
 
The last 12 months have provided 14-year-old Conner Stroud with a lifetime of memories. In 2013, he gained a measure of celebrity by having the chance to play a few points against former US Open champion Andy Roddick – firing a down-the-line winner as onlookers erupted with cheers. That encounter with a former US Open champ led to another, as Stroud then enjoyed a meet-and-greet with Rafael Nadal at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York during the 2013 event, which was featured in  a spotlight on Tennis Channel. Last fall, Stroud, who has Bilateral Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency – PFFD for short and was born without hips, femur bones, knees or ankles, took his first shot at wheelchair tennis, attending the USTA/ITF International Junior Camp in Mission Viejo, Calif.
 
“I like Wheelchair Tennis better because it allows me to get to the ball easier,” said Stroud, whose physical limitations have never limited his determination. Indeed, the Spindale, N.C., native’s first experiences in tennis were against able-bodied opponents, as he would run on custom-made boots that slip over his heels (Conner was born with feet, but doctors advised the Strouds that their son’s quality of life and his ability to walk would be improved if they would amputate all but his heels). As he learned to play, he particularly enjoyed playing doubles, since he was better able to compete in those matches, having to cover just one half of the court.
 
“[In wheelchair tennis], now I can cover, move like I want to,” he says. “With an equal playing field, [tennis] became more fun.”
 
Stroud practiced diligently last July under the watch of Team USA Head Coach Dan James, learning the basics of maneuvering his sport chair while still firing shots with authority. In September, Stroud notched his first official wheelchair tournament win at the PTR Championships in Hilton Head, S.C.
 
James was impressed with the rapid ascent of the youngest player on his 2014 BNP Paribas World Team Cup squad.
 
“I’ve watched him come a long way in just a year’s time, and you see that love in playing and drive to improve,” said James before the start of WTC play. {Playing World Team Cup] will be a tremendous experience for Connor and his folks.”  Stroud’s junior teammates include Chris Herman and Casey Ratzlaff, both of whom have WTC experience. This week, he’s played doubles exclusively with Herman, notching wins against Great Britain, Malaysia and the host country, the Netherlands.
 
Dewey and Rita Stroud are accompanying their son on his first trip outside of the U.S. With Conner currently No. 26 in the ITF Boys’ Wheelchair rankings, his parents are embracing his ambition to continue to travel the world over and become a professional wheelchair tennis player. Meeting Nadal at the US Open was a blast – now, Stroud dreams of making his way back there to get his hands on a trophy, rather than an autograph.
 
“We’re both very proud of all that our son accomplishing,” said Dewey Stroud. “He keeps on going. What’s great about this event is that he’s part of a real close-knit group with Team USA. When you see your child enjoy something so positive, there’s nothing better.”
 
Like Stroud, Anderson, who has been playing for three decades and has kids that are the around the age of his fellow rookie, is making his WTC debut this week. Anderson’s story is no less inspirational.
 
In 1985, he saw a newspaper article that inspired him to attend a local tournament. When he arrived on site, he was handed a racquet right away.
 
“They told me: ‘You’re not going to watch, you’re going to play,” said Anderson about his first tennis experience. “All they had to do was tell me how to keep score. I loved it.”
 
The 48-year-old from Snohomish, Wash., today coaches tennis and works full time as a mechanical engineer, designing the interior cabins of commercial airplanes. He and wife Leslie are the parents of four: stepdaughter Shelby, age 15, son Kyle, age 12, and twins Parker and Sophia, age 8.
 
Anderson played internationally in Japan and New Zealand, and in Melbourne at the 1990 Australian Open, but had never competed in the Netherlands before this week. His WTC baptism was by fire; teaming with Jon Rydberg in men’s doubles, his first match was against top-seeded France, and the pair quickly discovered why the French earned that top line, dropping a  6-1, 6-0 decision.
 
Still, the loss did little to dampen Anderson’s enthusiasm for the sport, the competition, or his teammates.
 
“It’s amazing – you compete for 30 years, and then this is the awesome reward at the end, but you don’t want it to end,” said Anderson. “I understand the game today better, obviously, with the 30 years of experience. My teammates, Jon and Steve [Welch] are incredible guys and winners. [They’ve been]  friends of mine for a long time and it’s a thrill to be a part of this team with them.”

In 1998 the United States Tennis Association assumed responsibility for wheelchair tennis in America from the National Foundation for Wheelchair Tennis. Since then the USTA has become the first National Governing Body of both Olympic and Paralympic tennis governing Paralympics, ParaPan American Games and World Team Cup events.
 
The USTA remains dedicated to providing top-flight programming and developmental opportunities to wheelchair athletes of all ages and backgrounds willing to learn the sport and have fun.
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