The principals of one of the key storylines at the US Open, the 2014 Wheelchair Competition, arrived in Flushing Meadows this afternoon for a special draw ceremony on the eve of play. Tournament Director Dan James welcomed and introduced the players, such as No. 1 women’s seed Yui Kamiji and No. 1 quad player David Wagner, to the crowd on hand inside the Chase Center at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“During the next four days, from Thursday through Sunday, you’ll see some of the best athletes in the world in these draws,” said James. “As far as Grand Slams go, they know the stakes of New York and how big winning this competition will be. It’s going to be fun for both the players and fans alike.”
2014 marks the eighth year in which wheelchair tennis makes it’s way to Flushing Meadows after being introduced officially to the American Slam in 2005 (during Paralympic years, such as 2008 and 2012, the Wheelchair Competition takes a hiatus due to the concurrent scheduling of the Paralympic Games). Last year was an Open of firsts, as France’s Stephane Houdet became the first player over the age of 40 to win a US Open Wheelchair Competition singles title and women’s champion Aniek Van Koot of the Netherlands became the first female outside of legendary champion Esther Vergeer to win the women’s singles crown.
Eight players participate in the men’s and women’s divisions, which begin play on Thursday, with the bottom six seeds having their names drawn at random to fill out single-elimination brackets. The top two seeds for both brackets – No. 1 Shingo Kunieda and No. 2 Houdet for the men and No. 1 Kamiji and No. 2 Van Koot for the women – are placed on opposite sides so as to keep them separated for a potential final (listings for the men’s, women’s and quad singles draws can be found by clicking on the links).
The quads, which is the designated play division for athletes with disabilities in three limbs or more, has been where the U.S. has perennially shined best. Current world No. 1 Wagner and No. 6 Nick Taylor have combined for seven US Open Wheelchair Competition titles between them, five as a duo in doubles. The California native Wagner, 40, was a two-time defending quad singles champion leading into 2013 before South Africa’s Lucas Sithole dethroned him, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in their tense three-set final.
“Last week [at the USTA Wheelchair Tennis Championships] in St. Louis, it was a very good showing, tuning up for here,” said Wagner, who claimed titles in singles and doubles, the latter with Taylor. “The year’s been good, I’ve been battling these guys all over the world and it’ll be fun to do it all again this week in New York. To beat Lucas, it’s always a challenge, so we’ll see.”
In addition to five Open Wheelchair Competition titles, Wagner and Taylor also have earned a troika of Paralympic gold medals. They are arguably one of the finest teams in any wheelchair division. Should they lose, it would be a first for both: The Americans are undefeated here while playing as team.
“It’s a great honor to play with Nick, and that distinction means a lot,” said Wagner of the undefeated streak.