USTA names Paralympic wheelchair teams

June 18, 2012

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The United States Tennis Association (USTA) and U.S. National Wheelchair Tennis Team Coach Dan James today announced the nine players who will represent the United States in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England September 1-8.

The U.S. will be one of 30 countries represented by the 112 wheelchair tennis competitors from around the world, vying for gold in the men’s, women’s and quad events. The competition will take place at Eton Manor, a newly-built 10,500 seat venue built specifically for wheelchair tennis located in London’s Olympic Park.

“The USTA is the national governing body for Paralympic Tennis and is proud of the wheelchair tennis athletes who will represent the United States at this year’s Paralympic Games,” said Jon Vegosen, USTA Chairman of the Board and President. “Their ability to train their minds and bodies in order to earn the title ‘Paralympian’ is illustrative of their commitment and dedication to the sport of tennis. Watching them compete will be an honor.”

The men’s team will be led by Stephen Welch (Southlake, Texas), Jon Rydberg (Oakdale, Minn.), Steve Baldwin (San Diego, Calif.), and Noah Yablong (Tucson, Ariz.).

The women’s team will feature Emmy Kaiser (Ft. Mitchell, Ky.), and Mackenzie Soldan (Louisville, Ky.).

The quad team, led by two-time doubles gold medalists David Wagner (San Diego, Calif.), and Nick Taylor (Wichita, Kan.), will also include first-time Paralympian Bryan Barten (Tucson, Ariz.). Wagner, who is currently world No.1 in both singles and doubles, will be competing for his first gold medal in men’s quad singles at the Paralympics.

Direct entries are based on ITF World Rankings from May 21, 2012. Similar to the wildcard rule at other tennis tournaments, the U.S. Wheelchair Tennis Team has been granted a Bipartite by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). Bipartite slots allow the Paralympic event to allocate additional slots to countries competing in the events. For the first time, Baldwin and Yablong was granted a Bipartite to compete on the men’s team.

Coach James, of St. Paul, Minn., will be assisted at this year’s Paralympics by assistant coach Jason Harnett of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., as well as team leader David Schobel of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

This year’s Paralympic Games marks the sixth time wheelchair tennis will be part of the competition, and the third time the quad division will be included. The quad team of Wagner and Taylor won consecutive gold medals in doubles at the 2008 Games in Beijing, China and 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

Wheelchair tennis was introduced to the Paralympic program in 1988 as an exhibition event before becoming a full medal sport at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Paralympic tennis is an open competition, eligible to those athletes with a mobility-related disability. All competitors must compete in a wheelchair. More than 4,200 elite athletes with physical disabilities from around the world are expected to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

The USTA was officially designated by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) as the national governing body for the Paralympic sport of wheelchair tennis in June 2002, becoming the first Olympic national governing body to earn this recognition. As the national governing body for wheelchair tennis, the USTA manages wheelchair tennis in the United States, including the sanctioning of tournaments, overseeing wheelchair rankings, creating and managing a High Performance program for developing elite disabled athletes, and selecting teams to compete internationally for the United States.