East Ridge tennis: U.S. picks Rydberg for World Team CupEast Ridge head girls tennis coach Jon Rydberg was selected to represent the United States at the 2011 World Team Cup in South Africa.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, South Washington County Bulletin
Last fall Jon Rydberg got back into competitive tennis, playing in the US Open.
Since then, he’s kept busy in hope of regaining the form that had him ranked as the No. 1 wheelchair tennis player in the country in years past.
The hard work has paid dividends as Rydberg, the East Ridge head girls tennis coach, was selected to represent the United States at the 2011 World Team Cup.
“It is very cool,” Rydberg said. “I had to qualify more on reputation than on my ranking, because I haven’t been playing as much. It’s a good feeling to know that they still want you and think you’ll be valuable to the team.”
At the World Team Cup, the nation’s top wheelchair tennis players will compete against participants from around the globe from April 25 to May 1 in Pretoria, South Africa. Often referred to as the wheelchair tennis equivalent of pro tennis’ Davis Cup and Fed Cup competitions, the World Team Cup tournament brings the world’s best wheelchair tennis players together to compete for national pride in one of the world’s premier tennis team events.
The tournament is split into two divisions — the World Group I, which contains the best teams, and World Group II, which is a level down. Last year, for the first time in history, the U.S. was relegated to the Group II tournament. The goal this year is to get back to the top designation.
“Personally, I just want to play well and do whatever I need to do to help the team,” Rydberg said. “We just want to move up. We know what teams are in our pool. We know what kind of talent they bring and what we need to do. We definitely have a shot to move up.”
Over 200 players from more than 30 nations are expected to participate in the 2011 event in South Africa, which will become the 16th nation to host this prestigious event.
“Of course the competition is always exciting and fun, but it’s kind of always an added bonus if it’s in a unique or cool place like it is this year,” Rydberg said.
Prior to the US Open, mainly because of financial limitations and his obligation to the East Ridge tennis program, Rydberg had played in only three tournaments for the year, while most international players had played over 20 matches.
Because of the perception of the sport by the public, Rydberg has said that American wheelchair tennis players have a problem getting sponsorships and financial aid for tournaments, unlike international players. For most of his tournaments, Rydberg is on his own financially, except for events where he plays on a team for the United States, like the World Team Cup, then the United States Tennis Association (USTA) pays the bill.
The USTA was officially designated by the United States Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the Paralympic sport of wheelchair tennis in June 2002, becoming the first Olympic national governing body to earn this recognition. As the national governing body for wheelchair tennis, the USTA manages wheelchair tennis in the United States, including the sanctioning of tournaments, overseeing wheelchair rankings, creating and managing a High Performance program for developing elite disabled athletes, and selecting teams to compete internationally for the United States. A not-for-profit organization with 750,000 members, the USTA invests 100 percent of its proceeds into growing the game.
Rydberg has played in three US Opens, is a two-time Paralympian (2004 and 2008) and is now a 10-time United States Wheelchair World Cup team member.
Before the US Open, Rydberg was ranked 100th in the world according to the USTA rankings. His current ranking is 79th.
“It’s creeping up there,” Rydberg said. “Every tournament I play in I gain more points and that helps my rankings.”
After the US Open, Rydberg finished in second place in both singles and doubles at the Arizona Desert Classic in Tucson in February and was the singles and doubles champion in the Windsor Classic in Windsor Ontario, Canada earlier this month. He also competed in the Cajun Classic in Baton Rouge, La. and Pensacola Open in Pensacola, Fla., recently.
“I’m playing better,” Rydberg said. “It takes time. It just comes with practice and playing matches. I’ve had more chances to train and have a lot more matches under my belt now than I did going into the US Open. It’s a process.”
Rydberg said he hopes to qualify for the next Pan American Games, which will be held in October of 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Rydberg is the defending gold medalist at the games, but to qualify for the tournament for the US team, a player must be ranked as one of the top two players in the country. He is currently ranked sixth in the U.S.
“I have until the last day of August to qualify for that,” Rydberg said. “The other guys aren’t too far away. They are players I’ve beaten before. If I play four more tournaments or so and have decent results, I should be able to pass them. But, nothing is a given.”
With East Ridge, Rydberg will meet with the team this spring and then begin summer clinics the second week of June.
“I’m looking forward to getting out on the court with them again this summer,” Rydberg said. “It’s fun to play my own stuff, but it’s fun to watch the team improve too.”