The 2023 Australian Wheelchair Tennis National Championships were held at Melbourne Park from November 10-12 with singles and doubles events across the various classifications. The winner of the open men’s singles and doubles events was 25-year-old Anderson Parker.
This is a fantastic achievement in any year, but it was made even more remarkable by the fact that Anderson has just come back after a 7- year break from competitive tennis.
The First Serve recently sat down with Anderson to discuss his recent victories, his journey to this point, his aspirations, where he sees wheelchair tennis now and where he would like to see it in the future.
The First Serve (TFS): Hi Anderson, thanks for your time. What an amazing tournament you have just finished. First off, a 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 win in the singles final followed by a 6-2, 6-3 victory in the double final with Martyn Dunn. Congratulations! How does it feel to be crowned national champion?
Anderson Parker (AP): Thanks very much. It feels amazing and I still can’t quite believe it happened.
TFS: Your opponent in the singles final was Ben Weekes who is the number 36 ranked player in the world, a 5-time Paralympian, and the defending champion. How was that match?
AP: Sure. Everything came together at the right time. The first set of the final was quite tough mentally. I had to learn to play my own game. In the first set I was playing his game and struggled to get the balance between consistency and aggression. Then in the second and third sets it all seemed to come together. I was consistent, hit my targets and had a nice mix of control and aggression.
TFS: Can you tell me a little about your background.
AP: I grew up in Forbes. A country town in the central west of New South Wales. I played every sport imaginable as a kid and loved all of them. I started tennis lessons with the local tennis coach: John Christopher who gave me an excellent foundation and helped instil a love of the game. Our family moved to Sydney when I was still at school, and I played junior tournaments.
TFS: One thing people wouldn’t know is that you have only just come back to competitive tennis after a 7-year break. Why did you have a break?
AP: It was an enforced break as I didn’t meet the classification to participate in my category of wheelchair tennis. The rules were changed around 18 months ago which allowed me to participate again.
TFS: Can you tell me a little about your disability?
AP: Basically, I have what is called a right tailpe (clubfoot) which impairs my leg muscles. The standard test they do is the calf raise. I cannot do a calf raise with my right leg which means I meet the required classification.
TFS: What do you do in your break?
AP: I work full time which keeps me busy, and I played wheelchair basketball which helped fuel my competitive side.
TFS: How was it coming back to tournament play?
AP: The first 5-months on my return was tough. I had no confidence in my game, and it was a real struggle. I had issues with confidence, self- belief, and emotions when I was younger so, I thought this was going to continue.
TFS: Did those emotions resurface?
AP: No. I found I came back a much more mature player and person. I managed my expectations and have dealt much better with my emotions.
TFS: How have things changed since you started playing tournaments?
AP: There are lots of new faces at the tournaments which is awesome. When I first started as a junior there were only a few of us but coming back, I could count at least 10 new faces in the draw which is great for the sport.
TFS: You also won the doubles final with Martyn Dunn, defeating Riley Dumsday and Saalim Naser. How was that?
AP: It was great for me. I didn’t have to do much as Martyn was the star of the show so, I had the easy part as he basically carried me!
TFS: What does winning the national title do for you?
AP: Winning the singles gets me a wildcard into an Australian Wheelchair Summer Series event in Melbourne during January next year and helps in my application for an Australian Open wildcard.
TFS: What are your aspirations with your tennis?
AP: I would love to be ranked inside the top 40 in the world within 2 years, compete in the LA Parlympics in 2028 and hopefully the Paris Paralympics next year.
TFS: Where does your ranking need to be to qualify for Paris?
AP: Direct entry is a ranking inside the top 30. Then they have wildcards as well. I am currently ranked 90, so I have some work to do!
TFS: Do you have a plan to achieve your ranking goal?
AP: I will play ITF 3’s in the lead up to the July 1 cut off. I will need to be doing well in those events to cut my ranking down, but I have enough tournaments and time to do it if I play well.
TFS: What does your training week look like?
AP: I do 1 hour a day with my private coach: Keegan McCrohon at Homebush, I hit with different players as well during the week and I also train in a squad with Keegan Oh’Chee out of City Community tennis in Sydney. I also do gym work as well. Eventually I’d like to get to 15 hours a week on court but that will take time to get there. I need to train the body to handle the training load to avoid injuries.
TFS: Are you working as well?
AP: Yes, I work full time for A1 Metalising Services which keeps me busy!
TFS: How do you see the current state of Wheelchair tennis and what would you like to see in the future?
AP: As I mentioned, I love the fact we have more juniors coming through the ranks and the level is extremely high. I would love to see more publicity for the game. For example, when Shingo Kunieda who is arguably the greatest male wheelchair player of all time retired in January, we didn’t hear anything about it.
It would be great to have a dedicated channel for wheelchair tennis during the grand slams and Paralympics to showcase the talent that is out there. It would also be awesome to give all the different events more publicity so that the public understand that there are many different classifications in wheelchair tennis.
TFS: Anderson, well done again on your two national titles. Good luck with getting to Paris. I think it is onwards and upwards from here and I wish you every success in the future. Thanks very much for your time.
AP: My pleasure. Thank you very much.