Top-Ranked Quad Tennis Star
Whatever the obstacle, you can ace it if you set your mind to it.
A wheelchair never stopped David Wagner from achieving his dream. Paralyzed from the mid-chest down, he only has thirty percent functionality in his hands yet participates in some of the world’s fiercest competitions. A tennis racket taped to his hand, Wagner has swung his way into top-ranked positions in the quad division. He is ranked number three in the world for singles and number two in doubles.
Born in Fullerton, California, Wagner was raised in Walla Walla, Washington. He was very active in sports, playing basketball while in high school and tennis while attending college. His life would be altered dramatically one summer while visiting a friend in Redondo Beach, California. While playing frisbee in the surf with friends, a wave caught him, and he landed on his neck leaving him paralyzed. The young collegiate athlete whose life held so much promise was faced with the unthinkable. How would this new chapter in his life unfold?
Not to be dispirited, he challenged himself to make the most of his new circumstances. His passion for sports would not be diminished by his physical limitations. Taking a year off college, he took up table tennis as part of his rehabilitation regimen. Finding himself quite adept at it, he started to compete and in 1997 began entering national competitions. For three years he would win those competitions and the thrill of achievement sparked a desire to excel in the sport he loved most, tennis.
“I was thumbing through a magazine called Sports and Spokes, which is basically Sports Illustrated for disabled athletes, and I saw an ad for a wheelchair tennis clinic in Beaverton, Ore., and I was like ‘Wow! That sounds cool!’ I loved tennis before, why don’t I give it a try,” he says in an US Open interview.
Bring It On
He had the good fortune to learn with the best and was introduced to wheelchair tennis by Rick Draney, a top-ranked champion of the sport. Wagner attended Draney’s wheelchair tennis training camp in 1999 and excelled in the sport he so loved. By 2002, he broke into top ranking positions and was ranked the number one quadriplegic player in the U.S. That same year, he partnered with Draney winning the British Open and ranked number one in the ITF world rankings in quad doubles. Then in 2003 he became the number one ranked wheelchair tennis player in the world and held the title many times over the years.
Training and a stellar track record made Wagner a perfect candidate for the 2004 Summer Paralympics held in Athens, Greece. It was the first Paralympic Games to offer quad competitions. Wagner swung gold in quad doubles with his partner Nick Taylor and he also won silver in the singles competition.
Wheels on Fire
Wagner continued his winning streak in quad competitions including the U.S. Open in 2007 where he took first place in doubles and second place in singles. He bagged first place doubles at Wimbledon in 2018 along with British partner Andy Lapthorne. “For us it becomes less of a power game and more of a strategic style of tennis,” Wagner explained to Sky Sports. “So we manipulate the ball with maybe more placement rather than spin or pace like the open guys. But other than that we’re out there every week competing hard and enjoying the moment just like everyone else.”
After Wimbledon, he won first place with Dylan Alcott in the Roland Garros Quad Doubles. Then, in the 2008 Paralympics held in Beijing, China, Wagner and Taylor won gold in doubles and Wagner took bronze in the singles match. In 2012 at the Paralympics in London, England, Wagner and Taylor once again won gold in doubles and Wagner won silver in singles.
Even though he already established crowning achievements in an illustrious career, more medals were yet to come. Among them were his wins in 2014 at the British Open doubles with partner Jamie Burdekin, Japan Open doubles with Greg Hasterok, Australian Open singles and doubles with partner John Devorss, and his 7th French Open. In the 2016 Summer Paralympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wagner snagged a silver in quad doubles and bronze in quad singles.
Since 2002, Wagner has ranked in the top three of the quad division in both singles and doubles according to the International Tennis Federation. By December of 2017, his efforts have earned him finishes as year-end number 1 a total of eight times in singles, and fourteen times in doubles. He has been doubles champion at every U.S. Open Wheelchair Quad Doubles draw through 2018.
A Great Enabler
His relentless pursuit of excellence in quad tennis has won him not only medals but admiration in the hearts of fans especially the disabled. He has been actively involved with the United States Tennis Association and often travels around the country teaching and giving motivational speeches at wheelchair camps and clinics.
Children and adults have been inspired by his messages of encouragement to join the sport. His best advice is one his own life reflects, to “always give your best no matter what you are doing. If you give your best, then you will never be disappointed.”
Wagner continues to be a full-time wheelchair tennis player and plays fifteen to twenty tournaments every year including Grand Slam events. He’s looking forward to playing at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 anticipating golds in single and double events. He continues his training at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center near San Diego, California where he is the only tennis player in residence. He enjoys waking up every morning and rolling onto the tennis court to do what he loves best and proving that obstacles were made to be overcome. Learn more about David Wagner at his website at davidwagner.us.