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Wheelchair tennis debuts at USTA Boys' 18s National Championships in Kalamazoo
Over the last two years, the USTA has worked tirelessly to seamlessly integrate wheelchair tennis into its able-bodied tennis operations—effectively eliminating silos between the two and changing the landscape for the sport as a whole in the United States.
First came administrative integration, where the once-separate wheelchair tennis department, both at the grassroots and high-performance levels, its staff and day-to-day operations were woven seamlessly into each of the USTA’s existing departments. Next came professional tennis integration, which has seen top U.S. wheelchair athletes travel as a part of the U.S. delegation to Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup ties in 2022, building one, inclusive, Team USA on and off the court.
Last week, the sport again moved forward—this time, at one of the country's most prestigious national junior tennis championships: Competitive wheelchair matches were played for the first time in the nearly eight decades of the USTA Boys’ 18s National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich. when Charlie Cooper, Mathias Krodel, Tomas Majetic and Max Wong competed in a round-robin exhibition event from Aug. 9-12 alongside the able-bodied event.
Cooper won the event with a perfect 3-0 round-robin record, losing just eight games in six sets along the way. The 15-year-old from La Quinta, Calif. is currently the 12th-ranked junior in the world rankings, while 14-year-old Wong (Flushing, N.Y.) is ranked No. 30; 15-year-old Majetic (Boulder, Colo.) is No. 32; and 17-year-old Krodel (Cincinnati, Ohio) is No. 36.
But the biggest takeaway from the week’s tennis wasn’t the set scores or win-loss records; just the players’ mere presence in Kalamazoo, which has hosted the championships since 1943 and counts players like Arthur Ashe, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras among its all-time champions, was meaningful, according to USTA director of wheelchair tennis Jason Harnett.
“Having wheelchair tennis included and integrated into the amazing history of the Boys’ National Championships here in Kalamazoo shows the progress that the sport of wheelchair tennis is making here in the U.S.,” Harnett said.
“Integration of the sport at all levels—from the junior space, to the high school, collegiate, professional and Paralympic levels and beyond—and within the structure of the USTA, is making a historic impact upon the adaptive and para-sporting world. Kalamazoo has now helped to showcase the next generation of potential Paralympians in their early years of competition.”
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