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Canadian wheelchair tennis player Shaw to play in quad division at Australian Open

Rob Shaw Rob Shaw - The Canadian Press

Canada's Rob Shaw wouldn't mind seeing the wind pick up next week at Melbourne Park when he takes to the court at the Australian Open.

Shaw, the lone Canadian wheelchair tennis player in the field, competes in the quad division for players with varying levels of upper and lower limb impairment.

"I don't have the same mobility skills as some of my competitors and I'm not one of the fastest in the division," Shaw said. "And because of that, I sort of make up for it by ensuring that no one gets into a rhythm."

Blustery conditions can sometimes help on that front.

The 33-year-old native of North Bay, Ont., likes to use spin-heavy shots - sometimes with extra arc - depending on the wind. Mixing in the occasional fast-paced ball can then leave his opponents guessing.

"Making sure that I give myself enough time through height to recover," Shaw said. "But then also be able to hit through the court with pace to be able to hopefully elicit some sort of a short ball return to have a putaway.

"It's a lot of variety. I can't go out there and just hit the same ball over and over. Some guys do, but for me it doesn't work."

Shaw started playing wheelchair tennis after a diving accident at age 21. He has partial paralysis in all four limbs and has to heavily tape the racket to his right hand when he plays.

Shaw reached the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time in 2018. A year later, he defeated then world No. 1 David Wagner of the United States en route to a gold medal at the Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

"I would say that was my coming-out party as far as establishing myself as a top-10 player," Shaw told The Canadian Press in a recent interview from Melbourne.

Shaw made his Paralympic Games debut in Tokyo in 2021 and his Grand Slam debut at last year's US Open, falling in the first round at both tournaments.

He earned a berth in the Australian Open thanks to his No. 7 world ranking.

"It's uncomfortable playing me, I like to think," Shaw said. "Not because I blow you off the court, but because I'll give you four or five balls in a row that are all different and force you to adapt and change your rhythm and the way you manoeuvre your chair."

The draw is scheduled to be released Sunday. Top-ranked Niels Vink of the Netherlands is the favourite after taking the last Grand Slam title in New York without dropping a set.

Singles play is set to begin Tuesday. Shaw will team up with Australia's Heath Davidson in doubles play.

Shaw, a resident of Kelowna, B.C., hopes to maintain his top-eight ranking for Grand Slams this season and also plans to defend his title at the 2023 Parapan Ams in Santiago, Chile. He also has an eye on qualification for next year's Paralympics in Paris.

Sam Schroder of the Netherlands is ranked second in singles at the first Grand Slam of the season. Davidson is third and Wagner has slipped to fourth.

"There's no secrets when you're on court with these guys," Shaw said. "It's the same as the standup tour. Everyone knows everyone.

"So you do your best to gameplan and to strategize and then you just go out and hope that you execute."

Defending champions Diede De Groot of the Netherlands and Japan's Shingo Kunieda headline the women's and men's open wheelchair tennis classes. Those 16-player draws are for athletes with lower limb impairment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2023.

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