2019 Year in Review:
U.S. Wheelchair Success
Victoria Chiesa | December 10, 2019
As 2019 draws to a close, USTA.com is taking a look back at the top storylines, headlines and highlights from the year in American tennis. Here, we recap the efforts of Team USA on the ITF UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, at Grand Slams and in national competition over the past 12 months.
Top American wheelchair tennis players played an important role in a record-setting and history-making 2019 season for their sport.
The group first set the world on fire in the summer, when Team USA proved to be the winningest tennis nation at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru in August.
Each member of the six-player team--Dana Mathewson, Emmy Kaiser, Bryan Barten, Chris Herman, Casey Ratzlaff and David Wagner--won at least one medal.
Combining their success with a gold in women's doubles for Caroline Dolehide and Usue Arconada, and a singles silver for Dolehide, at the Panamerican Games, the red, white and blue won a total of seven tennis medals in Lima overall.ADVERTISEMENT
To end the year, the USTA National Campus hosted the ITF year-end championships for both singles and doubles at the combined NEC Wheelchair Singles and UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters in November, where Wagner won an 11th career quad singles title by beating teenaged sensation Niels Vink of the Netherlands.
The occasion marked just the second time since 2002 that both season-ending tournaments were held at the same venue. In addition, the events were held at the same venue and the same time for the second time in the past seven years.
Already having had a legendary career in his 20 years on the tennis court, Wagner also led the way for the group in more ways than one as his career gets set to enter a third decade.
The 45-year-old appeared in six Grand Slam finals in 2019, and the former world No. 1 played his part in a pair of history-making moments for wheelchair tennis as a whole.
For the first time, quad singles and doubles events were held at both the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019, with the latter adding the events after a successful invitation doubles event in 2018.
Wagner was the singles finalist and doubles champion in Paris, earning him an 18th career Slam doubles title, and was also runner-up in doubles at the All-England Club.
"It was awesome. It's been a long time coming. We've been lobbying for it and pushing for it for a very long time," Wagner said at the Masters, when speaking about the major additions.
"I'm the old, seasoned veteran out here, so I've been pushing for it since day one, and it's really cool to see it come to fruition. It's an opportunity for everybody now, regardless of disability, to play on those big stages and represent their country, represent themselves, represent the division. It's really important.
"I think the next phase is equal draw sizes across the board for men, women and quads, and larger draw sizes in the Slams. Increase our draws and make them equal. I think all players are on board with that. I don't know how we'll go about that--that's a little tricky...but we love being there.
"I hope they enjoy having us there. It was just an honor to be in the first one ever and be a part of that."
Outside of the professional ranks, wheelchair tennis also thrived in various ways across the country. The University of Alabama won its fifth national title at the 2019 USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships, with Herman (singles A, University of Central Florida), Alex Saporito, (singles B, Alabama) and Auburn Smith (singles C, Central Florida) winning individual titles.
To help grow the sport at the grassroots level, the USTA added three more All-Comers Camps to its national schedule, with six camps being held in five states.
For more American tennis highlights from 2019, check out our Year in Review page here.