TORONTO – Since he started playing wheelchair tennis competitively about six years ago, Rob Shaw has climbed into the world’s top-10 in the quad division and won numerous international and national tournaments.
What Shaw has never done is beaten one of world’s best-ever quad players: David Wagner of the United States.
Could it happen at the 2019 Parapan American Games, which get underway August 23 in Lima, Peru?
‘’David is the favourite but he’s getting at a point in his career that he is not as dominant as he used to be,’’ said Shaw, currently ranked ninth in the world and the winner of three ITF titles in 2019.
‘’I’m sure age has something to do with that [Wagner is 45]. He is still very talented but he’s definitely more vulnerable than he ever has been. It should make for some very exciting tennis.’’
Shaw, who is 0-7 vs Wagner, admits he will have to capitalize on his opportunities if he wants to cause a major upset.
‘’I’ve had close matches with him,’’ he said. ‘’Those matches you just have to be really effective; you have to make those easy shots because you know he’s not going to be missing them either.”
Wagner’s shot selection is what primarily baffles his opponents.
‘’It’s his simplicity,’’ Shaw continued. ‘’He really approaches the game with a calculated mindset. He doesn’t try to do more than he has to. His placement is phenomenal. He doesn’t try to overdo it or overhit. He understands you don’t need to hit these massive amazing shots to win points.’’
It is the first time the quad division will be included in the Parapan American Games program. For Shaw, this is long overdue. Five of the top-15 quad players in the world rankings are from the Americas.
‘’It’s a really positive step in the right direction for us,’’ said Shaw. ‘’It’s an acknowledgement that the level of competition is very high and we deserve to be on the world stage. Ever since I’ve played, the level has been very high. There isn’t any reason it couldn’t have been at the Games for Toronto. It wasn’t that our skill wasn’t high enough, they hadn’t been able to get it lobbied successfully.’’
Shaw coached tennis from the age of 15 to 21, including stand-up and wheelchair tennis. He was injured in a diving accident at the age of 21, becoming partially paralyzed from the neck down. He started playing wheelchair tennis after his accident.
He feels being a student of the game since such a young age gives him an advantage on the court.
‘’I think I go into matches with a better awareness of how the sport works and I can read my opponents probably a little bit easier,’’ he said. ‘’I often find myself in the right spot more often than not. That’s probably my biggest strength, that court awareness.’’
At 29 and now in the peak years of his career, Shaw knows the ball is now in his court to end one reign and perhaps begin another.