David Wagner on Tennis Future:
'Be involved for as long as I can'
Victoria Chiesa | May 7, 2020
For the month of May, USTA.com is celebrating National Mobility Awareness Month by highlighting some of the American players, events, influencers and trailblazers who make wheelchair tennis special. Up next, all-time great David Wagner reflects on the injury scare that nearly disrupted his 2019 season, and caused him to reflect on his decorated career.
In his decorated career, there's not much that David Wagner hasn't achieved or experienced on a tennis court.
But in 2019, the 24-time Grand Slam champion and eight-time Paralympic medalist was forced to come face-to-face with an unfamiliar foe: an injury layoff.
While training for Wimbledon last summer, where he finished as runner-up in the tournament's inaugural quad doubles event alongside Koji Sugeno, Wagner felt something amiss—ultimately, he was diagnosed with a hernia that was surgically removed when he returned home.ADVERTISEMENT
Forced away from the tour for over a month, the veteran was limited to light on-court activities as he rehabilitated after the surgery, not exceeding more than an hour in one session, as well as similar parameters in the gym with his trainer. Missing major tour events for the first time in his career at age 45, Wagner began to consider whether his tenure in tennis—a sport he's dominated since first rising to world No. 1 in the quad singles ranks in 2003—was coming to an end.
"As you age as an athlete, and you start getting injured," he said, "it definitely raises questions as to, 'How much longer do you have in this sport?' It [was] a way to evaluate how much more I do have and how much more I'm willing to put in."
Ultimately, Wagner returned to the courts in August, claiming a silver medal in quad singles at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, for Team USA. He later earned a doubles title with longtime partner and friend Nick Taylor at the USTA Wheelchair Championships in St. Louis in September, and triumphed against 16-year-old Niels Vink in the quad singles championship match at the NEC Wheelchair Singles Masters at the USTA National Campus in November. That title was Wagner's 11th in 16 editions of the year-end showpiece event.
A winner of two singles and three doubles titles on the ITF Uniqlo Wheelchair Tennis Tour before international tennis at all levels was suspended due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Wagner will seek a place on a fifth U.S. Paralympic team in Tokyo next year when the sport returns—full of perspective about his past, present and future in the game.
"If somebody sees me in a Paralympic moment and they have a disability, that might encourage them to go apply for a job that they didn't think they would be eligible for," he said. "I think it just transcends more than sport; it flows into the life of people with disabilities.
"When we play at the Grand Slams or the major events, when [people] first see the sport, they're like, 'That's a guy in a wheelchair playing tennis.' I want them to walk away and go, 'That's a tennis player in a wheelchair.'
"My passion for this sport is high. I thoroughly enjoy it. I want to be involved with it for as long as I can be. As long as people want me around, I want to be a part of it."