Patience pays off for Australian Open debutant Anderson Parker
Anderson Parker, one of Australia's leading wheelchair tennis athletes, has faced several challenges to fulfil his Grand Slam dreams.
“The nerves are flooding in,” admitted Anderson Parker ahead of his Grand Slam debut today.
It’s been a long and testing journey for the 25-year-old from Sydney to reach this stage, but after receiving a wildcard into the Australian Open 2024 men’s wheelchair singles competition, he is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Parker excelled in wheelchair tennis as a teen, peaking at world No.6 in the junior rankings. However, he was forced out of the sport for seven years when his disability was reclassified.
He enjoyed a stint playing wheelchair basketball and found work as a forklift driver and warehouse assistant, but when a rule change in 2022 meant he was once again eligible to compete on the ITF World Tennis Tour, Parker did not have to think twice about returning to a sport he loves.
“I’ve been back ever since and I’m looking forward to taking it full time,” he said.
Parker made his competitive comeback at a tournament in Sydney in April 2022 and won his first ITF professional title in Melbourne a year later.
He is currently ranked No.91 in the world, 12 spots shy of the career-high he achieved as a teenager nine years ago.
“Over the past two years, a lot of training has happened. I’m glad that Tennis Australia has seen that and given me this opportunity,” Parker said.
“I want to push my way to the top and this could springboard my tennis.”
Parker trains regularly in Sydney alongside the experienced Ben Weekes, the world No.36 and a fellow wildcard recipient at Australian Open 2024.
“He’s definitely helped me to develop my skills as fast as I can,” Parker said of the enduring 39-year-old. “He’s one of the best in Australia so it’s good to hit with him often.”
It is the strong camaraderie that Parker has relished most since returning to the sport. He names Finn Broadbent and Heath Davidson as among the other leading Aussie players to provide support.
“The tennis community is so lovely, so coming back into it is easy,” he said. “The training is the hardest part, but it makes it easier when you have a good bunch of people around you.”
One of Parker’s ambitions is to give back to the sport through City Community Tennis, a leader in the adaptive tennis space in Sydney.
“I’m looking forward to seeing where I can help out there,” he said.
He is already exceeding his on-court goals, declaring he was “very astonished” to defeat Weekes in the men’s singles final at the 2023 Australian Wheelchair Tennis National Championships, held at Melbourne Park in November.
“I didn’t expect to win, but I played the best tennis I’ve ever played,” Parker said.
“I sort of held my own against Ben and fortunately won that match against him in three sets. That’s given me a lot of hunger to see how I go in the Australian Open.”
The determined competitor prepared for his maiden Grand Slam appearance by competing at a series of recent ITF tournaments in Melbourne, where he faced world No.1 and defending Australian Open champion Alfie Hewett.
Despite losing that match in straight sets, Parker described it as an invaluable learning experience.
“Alfie’s the best in the world, so it was good to see where his technique and level is at compared to me,” Parker said.
Parker is hoping to learn even more during his maiden Australian Open campaign, which begins against world No.13 Alexander Cataldo, a 25-year-old from Chile.
“I did not expect to get here, at least this year,” he admitted.
“I’m just excited I can prove to people how much I’ve trained. Hopefully I can compete in the right way and make it warranted that I’ve got a wildcard.”
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