Training fields

US Open wheelchair field expansion creates opportunity for Dana Mathewson and other American players


David Wagner returns a shot against Andy Lapthorne (Great Britain) in their Men’s Quad Wheelchair Singles Quarterfinals match at US Open 2022 on September 7, 2022 in New York City.

When the US Open wheelchair events begin on Wednesday, they will feature the largest player fields in Grand Slam history. The men’s and women’s singles fields have doubled in size to 16 players each, while the doubles fields now have eight teams each. (The single quad field doubled in size to eight competitors last year and remained unchanged for 2022.)

This year’s US Open is also the first Grand Slam to include a junior wheelchair competition, with fields of eight for girls and boys.

Showcasing the best stars in teenage wheelchair tennis at a Grand Slam is a big step forward, Mathewson said. While the development pathway for able-bodied players has been well established over decades, it remains unclear for young wheelchair players who don’t always have access to facilities, proper training or strong local competition.

An expansion of the sport at the collegiate level has also helped — Mathewson is a product of the collegiate game, having played for Arizona. Meanwhile, the USTA National Campus in Orlando, where Mathewson trains, is one of a growing number of locations offering elite coaching and support.

“I was very happy to see how things are changing,” said Mathewson, who competed at her second Paralympic Games last year in Tokyo. “Playing college tennis is a big deal. Having the access to play at the USTA training facility in Orlando, and really training and training like a pro, has allowed me to push my game at the top level.

Wagner, 48, has known Mathewson for a long time and is thrilled to see her progress to the top of wheelchair tennis.

“I love Dana, she’s a great player and person, so I’m really happy to see all the good things happening to her,” the Walla Walla, Washington native said. “She took advantage of the opportunities that came her way and got away with it. It shows how we are helping the game to grow and increase the talent pool.

However, Wagner said he would like to see corresponding growth in the quad division, including at the US Open. Wagner said there were high-level discussions on the matter, but ultimately the USTA kept the field at eight.

Wagner, who won 28 major titles – six singles, 22 doubles – to go along with three Paralympic gold medals, is one of the leading voices in the quads.

“It really doesn’t make sense not to put us at 16, because we have the players and the depth in the game,” Wagner said. “We need to look at how we can become fairer for all of us. I’m obviously happy for the juniors, because it’s a huge step to grow the game. But leaving the quads behind isn’t fair. We are not going to back down wanting all Grand Slams to do the right thing.

Mathewson sees wheelchair play as a step-by-step progression.

Wagner wants to see progression bring everyone equally.

Which leads to a recent moment that had Mathewson laughing, as she told the story. After Wimbledon, she did a photo shoot for one of her sponsors. She shared the shooting with another world star, the Greek Maria Sakkari, who is valid.

Two women who play tennis at a high level, both sponsored by the same company.

“I think that’s how I want it to end up – forget the chair, forget ‘feeling sorry for us’ – just see the tennis and the athletes,” Mathewson said. “Maria and I are both professional players. The biggest part of what I want to get out of this is for people to see how high tennis is, how great this sport and the athletes are, and see us as being beyond mere inspirations.

“Of course, I think it’s good if I inspire you, but I want you to be really inspired by my game. That’s progress and the next step for all of us. At the end of the day, that’s what we want. Opportunity.”

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