2023 Eastern Adaptive Sectional Championships
A little inclement weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of those participating in the 2023 USTA Eastern Adaptive Sectional Championships, held September 23 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. With players forced to compete on the facility's indoor courts as the remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia swirled around the greater New York City area, Tyler Conover and partner Sebastian Wernecke—based out of Commack, N.Y.—claimed the title at the third annual event and will next head down to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida in November to represent the section at the national tournament (where the sun will also hopefully make an appearance). The pair will be joined by Lena Franklin and Alexander Dobrin, who finished as section finalists.
“I was really happy,” Conover said of capturing the final point of the championship. “It was nice, and I have come a long way.”
The tournament was contested in a unified doubles format, which means that one player with a disability competes alongside another player without one. Wernecke—a tennis pro who has worked with Conover since 2019 at Sportime Kings Park and at the Old Field Club in Setauket, N.Y.—echoed his partner’s sentiment, noting that his young student’s persistent enthusiasm, focus and determination ultimately carried the team over the line.
“Anyone who knows Tyler knows he has a passion for tennis,” Wernecke said. “Since the first time we set forth on a tennis court together up until now, he has been unwavering in his commitment. His remarkable work ethic has always stood out—he even braved outdoor sessions in the winter, and he has devoted [so much] hard work to earn his spot on the JV team at Commack High School. Over the years, I have seen him develop into the tennis player he is today, and to be able to compete together was really special, never mind taking home the trophy!”
Beyond commitment, Wernecke said that his partner was particularly dialed in on service games. Down 2-3 in the final, Conover hit several strong serves to hold at love and ultimately shift the momentum of the match. It’s one of the facets of his game that Conover continues to improve under Wernecke’s supervision.
“I have been working on my serves and [getting the] toss up higher,” Conover explained.
The high intensity level from Conover and his fellow competitors is always a hallmark of the competition, said Mark McIntyre, the event’s tournament director.
“One of the highlights for me every time is seeing all of the athletes step up under the pressure and compete,” he said. “I work with a lot of the players throughout the year, and I can honestly say they were playing at their best throughout the matches. Some of the tiebreaks had some really amazing points. It was super fun to watch.”
And no doubt fun to play. In 2024, McIntyre hopes to further open up the draw to give more players the opportunity to participate.
“I’d like to be able to include more adaptive athletes and their families,” he said. “I look forward to the day when the USTA Eastern Adaptive Sectional Championships is a weekend affair. We would have two full days competing on the National Tennis Center courts and maybe eventually hold the final matches inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.”
The tournament is one of many initiatives USTA Eastern has organized to help make the sport more inclusive at the local level. In 2022, the section hosted a Wheelchair and Adaptive Tennis Symposium to encourage coaches and tennis facilities to expand their program offerings to include those with disabilities. The organization has also collaborated with the tennis non-profit Love Serving Autism to offer trainings that empower instructors to reach out to this underserved community. Dobrin—a P.E. teacher at the NYC-based Queens Transition Center—attended one of these sessions and ultimately integrated what he learned into his curriculum; months later, he and one of his students finished runners-up at the sectional, an experience neither will soon forget, he said.
“It was rewarding to see how much my partner Lena enjoyed the event,” Dobrin said. “This was the first time she competed in [a big competition] in tennis…it was quite memorable to get to play the final match in front of the other players, volunteers, friends and family. During that match, she hit some of her best shots of the day, including a lob and passing shot winners! I’ve played in numerous USTA Eastern tennis events over the years. This was one of the most memorable experiences I have had.”
Wernecke agreed with his fellow instructor, noting that the sectional ultimately produced a “strong sense of community" and that the "unity and camaraderie" among the competing teams was truly enjoyable.
“This event emphasized the importance of inclusivity and creating an environment where every individual, regardless of their abilities, can participate and enjoy sports and other activities,” he said. “It's a reminder that we should strive for a world where everyone is valued and given the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
And for Conover and Franklin, it offered one more chance to compete and show off their flashy serves and hot shots in a competitive environment.
“I am excited to go play tennis in Florida,” Conover said of his upcoming trip to the National Campus. “I want to win every single point!”
Are you a tennis provider interested in implementing adaptive programming? We can help you get started. Contact USTA Eastern Diversity & Inclusion Director David Williams or Parks & Recreational Play Coordinator Kelsey Altavilla to learn more.