Not a lot has been spoken or heard about the sport of wheelchair tennis. While able-bodied tennis clearly overshadows its wheelchair counterpart in terms of fan following, sponsorship deals and prize money, the latter has given opportunities to numerous athletes to showcase their phenomenal athletic abilities while enjoying the sport. Wheelchair tennis is identical to able-bodied tennis with the exception of the ball being allowed to bounce two times where the second bounce can occur outside the boundaries of the court. Given that the Tokyo Paralympic Games are just around the corner, we have decided to make a list of 8 exceptional wheelchair athletes of all time.
Shingo Kunieda is a right-handed wheelchair tennis legend hailing from Tokyo, Japan. He has over 50 singles titles, including 23 Grand Slams. Coached by Hiromichi Maruyama, the World No.1 is the only player to have retained the men’s singles title in the Paralympic Games. Kunieda likes playing on hard turf and has a win rate of 88%
Kunieda was diagnosed with a spinal tumour which ended up leaving him paralysed from waist below, but that did not stop Kunieda from pursuing the sport and becoming a top athlete. He has one of the longest win streaks in wheelchair tennis (106 matches). He is an exceptional athlete with 101 total titles to his name which truly makes him the greatest of all time.
Esther Veeger can be described as the greatest wheelchair tennis player of all time and probably one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived. The former World No. 1 has over 148 singles titles and 136 doubles titles to her name, of which 48 are Grand Slams. Vergeer had dominated the female division for over a decade, during which she registered 695 wins and only 25 losses in singles. She also holds a record for the longest win streak (470 matches) and for holding the World No.1 spot for 642 weeks.
Esther suffered from vascular myelopathy as a child. After an operation to treat the condition in 1990, she became paralysed. She turned a wheelchair tennis pro within five years of the operation, but tennis wasn’t the only sport she played. She was also a wheelchair basketball player and was part of the Dutch national team that won the European Championship in 1997.
Esther’s career graph is a display of sheer dominance and it’s safe to say that no one is coming close to matching that anytime soon.
Deide de Groot
If there is anyone who could possibly challenge the records set by Esther Vergeer it is Dedei de Groot, the current World No. 1 wheelchair tennis player. The 24-year-old Dutch national has over 9 singles Grand Slams to her name and 10 doubles titles. Her tennis journey started when she was only seven years old. After going through multiple surgeries for her uneven legs, she adopted the wheelchair sport. Deide turned pro at 17 and won her first Grand Slam title at the 2017 Wimbledon. She is also one of the players who have won back-to-back Wimbledon, Australian Open and US Open titles, but her eye is set on claiming her first Olympic Gold in the upcoming Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Dubbed as “The Quadfather”, Peter Norfolk is a former World No.1 wheelchair tennis player in the quad division. He has won 6 singles Grand Slam titles, 2 doubles titles and also gave Britain its Paralympic gold medal in tennis. A motorbike accident had left him paraplegic when he was only 19, which developed more complications ten years later resulting in him losing strength in his right arm and shoulder. That was when Peter decided to pick up the wheelchair sport and went on to become one of the greats. In a 13-year career he has multiple titles and currently ranks 3rd in all-time quad title winners list.
Dylan Alcott is an Australian wheelchair basketball and tennis (quad division) athlete. He’s one of the most decorated and successful wheelchair athletes and currently sits at the top of the quad division tennis rankings. He has a total of 12 singles and 8 doubles Grand Slam titles to his name.
Dylan grabbed his first major title in 2015 and was named Australian Paralympian of the Year after a brilliant display at the 2016 Rio Paralympics where he won gold medals in both singles and doubles categories.
Dylan was born with a tumour around his spine which left him paraplegic. While tennis was his first sport of choice, he made headlines when he became the youngest to compete in the Wheelchair Basketball competition at 17 years of age. He was also part of the squad that won Australia’s first ever FIBA World Championships.
With an impressive win rate of 94% on the clay court, Dylan has won all matches he has played this year and has his eyes set on the upcoming Paralympic Games.
Taking the No. 1 spot for most titles in quad tennis is David Wagner from California, United States. He has a total of 17 singles titles, of which 6 are Grand Slams, but it’s the doubles category where David has really shown his dominance by winning 33 titles including 19 Grand Slams – the most by any individual. He has 859 wins and 173 losses in his professional career and has over 157 singles titles under his belt.
David started his journey in wheelchair sports after a beach accident left him paralysed. With only 30% functionality in his hands, David began playing table tennis and won the National Championship three times in a row. He then moved on to wheelchair tennis and claimed the No. 1 rank in 2003.
He has 8 Paralympic medals to his name but is yet to win a gold in quad singles. The Tokyo Paralympic Games 2021 give him a perfect opportunity to grab the medal that has been missing from his collection.
If there is anyone apart from the Dutch nationals who has made a name in wheelchair tennis, it’s the 27-year-old Yui Kamiji. She has 8 singles titles and 16 doubles Grand Slam titles. In 2014, Yui, along with her British partner Jordanne Whiley, completed a calendar slam in women’s doubles. Kamiji became the first non-Dutch national to lift the NEC Masters title after beating The Netherlands’ Jiske Griffioen.
Yui was born with Spina bifida, a condition in which a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly. She started playing wheelchair tennis at the age of 11 and cruised her way to the World No.1 spot by the time she was 20. Like David Wagner, Yui Kamiji is still in pursuit of a Paralympic gold medal.
David Hall has been considered Australia’s greatest wheelchair tennis player of all time. He has won all the major trophies, including 9 Australian Open, 7 British Open and 8 US Open titles. David Hall’s dominance on the Australian soil can be seen from the fact that all of his 9 Australian Open titles were won during a span of ten years (1995-2005). He was also the first non-American to win a US Open Series title.
David lost his limbs in a car accident when he was 16. Already familiar with the sport, he started playing wheelchair tennis. With a career record of 632-111, David reached the World No.1 ranking in 1995. He was ranked World No.1 eight times between 1995-2005. Hall gave Australia its first singles gold at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games.
To commemorate his amazing career, David Hall was inducted into the Australia’s Sporting Hall of Fame in 2010. He is also the fourth wheelchair tennis player to be inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.