Rydberg selected to U.S. Pan American teamLast fall, when Jon Rydberg got back into competitive tennis, one of his top goals was to qualify for the Pan American Games. In two weeks, that goal will be complete.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, South Washington County Bulletin
Last fall, when Jon Rydberg got back into competitive tennis, one of his top goals was to qualify for the Pan American Games.
In two weeks, that goal will be complete.
Rydberg, the East Ridge girls tennis coach, was one of four American tennis players – two men and two women – selected by the United States Tennis Association to represent the country in wheelchair tennis at the 2011 Parapan American Games Nov. 14-18 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“It’s the one thing that gets me a direct entry into the London Olympics without playing a whole bunch of tournaments,” Rydberg said, “and, because I won gold there in ’07, earning the right to defend my title was pretty important to me. Those are two pretty big reasons for me to want to go.”
Rydberg is the defending gold medalist at the games, winning the 2007 Parapan singles competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To qualify for the tournament for the US team, a player must be ranked as one of the top two players in the country. Rydberg, 34, peaked at No. 11 in the world in 2007 and competed in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics. In addition to capturing the singles gold medal at the 2007 Parapan Am Games, he won the doubles silver medal that year with Lee Hinson. Rydberg has represented the U.S. at the World Team Cup and competed in three US Open wheelchair competitions. In addition to being a successful wheelchair tennis player, he is an accomplished wheelchair basketball player, earning a scholarship to play at the University of Texas-Arlington, where he helped lead the school to a national championship in 1997. Rydberg holds a degree in art from the University of Texas-Arlington. He was injured in an accident when he was 13 months old.
Last fall, 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 paid dividends with Rydberg’s selection to the US Parapan men’s team.
Rydberg has played in three US Opens, is a two-time Paralympian (2004 and 2008) and is 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 58th.
Rydberg said he feels he is a superior player now than in 2007.
“I think I’m better now than I was four years ago,” he said. “I played a little during the summer and during the spring. I was playing well. When my son was born in April I took a little hiatus. I wouldn’t say I’m on top of my game right now, but that’s why we have a training camp. We have three weeks to get things in order. Hopefully, I peak at the right time.”
Four-time Paralympic medalist Steve Welch, the 23rd ranked player in the world, will team up with Rydberg to from the men’s squad. The 2011 US Open wild card Emmy Kaiser and 2007 Parapan Am gold medalist Kaitlyn Verfuerth will play on the women’s team.
All nominations were subject to the approval of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The players will compete in men’s and women’s singles, as well as men’s and women’s doubles. During the event, Dan James will serve as head coach; Jason Harnett will be the assistant coach; and Jeremiah Yolkut will be the team leader.
Started in 1999, The Parapan Am Games are an international multi-sport event for athletes with a physical disability. The Games are held every four years in the year immediately prior to the Paralympic Games. This year, an estimated 1,500 athletes will compete in 13 different sports from 26 countries.
Players from France, the Netherlands and Japan make up the top 10 singles players in the world.
“The draw is much deeper than it usually is for this event,” Rydberg said. “There are a lot more high-end players. There’s players competing this year that weren’t there last time. There’s way more depth. Even though I’ve gotten better, everybody else has too.”
The USTA is the national governing body for the sport of tennis in the U.S. and the leader in promoting and developing the growth of tennis at every level — from local communities to the highest level of the professional game. A not-for-profit organization with more than 750,000 members, it invests 100 percent of its proceeds in growing the game.
Rydberg said this event is special to him because he is representing the United States.
“It’s the same kind of atmosphere as the Olympics,” Rydberg said. “All the players are playing for their country. It’s very cool in that sense.”