Huayi 'Eric' Court ready to learn from the best in World Team Cup debut
Over the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 4.9 million people in the U.S. took up tennis as a way to stay active, owing to its status as an ideal sport for social distancing. This week, one of those players will represent the United States at one of the most prestigious international competitions in the sport when 18-year-old Huayi “Eric” Court of Laie, Hawaii joins Paralympians Bryan Barten and David Wagner in making up the three-player quad team at the 2022 BNP Paribas World Team Cup in Vilamoura, Portugal.
The BNP Paribas World Team Cup is the flagship international team event in wheelchair tennis, the equivalent of Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, and Team USA is sending a 14-player contingent to compete in the men’s, women’s, quad and junior divisions from May 2-8. Ranked No. 11 in the world in the junior ranks, Court is set to rub shoulders with the game’s best players after playing in just four ITF/UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour events since his tour debut in November. Earlier this year, he traveled to Europe to compete in high-ranking junior events in France and the Netherlands.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments in tennis,” Court told usta.com from his Hawaii home last week, “and I’m super excited about the opportunity and to be able to play with all the other top athletes from other countries.”
Born in China but adopted to the U.S. seven years ago, Court first tried para-archery, wheelchair basketball, swimming and adaptive surfing as he grew up, first in California and now Hawaii. But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of basketball courts and swimming pools, he returned to tennis, which he first dabbled with years prior at a multi-sport summer camp.
“When the only thing open was a tennis court, that’s how I really started—I was just trying to stay fit [during] COVID, but I just fell in love with it,” Court said. “I really enjoy hitting the ball and the strategic part of tennis—that it’s just you, the other person, and the ball, and you’re trying to outmaneuver the other person.
"It’s just a great feeling … like playing chess, but in tennis.”
Switching from private school to home schooling for his senior year in the interest of committing to his tennis, Court says he’s largely been self-taught and self-coached in Laie, located on the island of Oahu, and that his first and foremost goal during his trip to Portugal is to absorb as much as he can from his surroundings while he attempts to help the U.S. win its 14th world quad title. It’s a full-circle moment for Court in many ways, and also a glimpse at his future; set to finish his high school studies this spring, he’ll enroll at the University of Arizona in the fall, where he’ll major in physiology on an academic scholarship, play tennis for the Wildcats in their adaptive athletics program, and be coached there by Barten.
“Years ago, I was at the Olympic and Paralympic training center in California for archery, and I saw someone playing tennis,” he said. “My mom said, ‘Oh, that’s David Wagner, our U.S. quad player.’ A quad tennis player didn’t mean much to me back then, but it’s kind of ironic how I got into tennis, and now I get to meet him. It’s super exciting."
"I want to achieve a lot in the future, want to go to the Paralympics and to play in the Grand Slams," he continued, ranking the Paris 2024 Games as "medium" on his scale of short to long-term goals.
"In the short-term, I want to make myself stronger. Most athletes work out and cross-train to strengthen their bodies and make themselves better, and right now, I'm not doing that. Coaching-wise ... that's something I've always lacked in my tennis career, and I think that's a great benefit I'm going to have at Arizona; being coached by Coach Barten, I'll have what other athletes have.
"I think that being on a team, having the support of a positive environment, is very important for athletes. Experiencing that, and getting out there and playing different players, that's what tennis is all about. My primary goal for this trip is just to learn and experience, and learn from David and Coach Barten. They’ve been around a long time—David has gone to five Paralympics, and that’s just an incredibly long time to play a sport—and they have so much experience. I’m just there to learn, to get better at tennis, and to meet different people."
More from the 2022 BNP Paribas World Team Cup
The 2022 BNP Paribas World Team Cup will be played in Vilamoura, Portugal from May 2-8. For more information, including access to historical records and to follow the event, visit the USTA's BNP Paribas World Team Cup homepage or the 2022 ITF World Team Cup site.
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