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Dana Mathewson, America’s top wheelchair tennis player, is ready for impact at US Open
"Anyone that comes out and sees me or anyone else in the wheelchair division play, will see that it's not 'wheelchair tennis,'" says the world No. 8. "It’s tennis. We just happen to be playing in a wheelchair."
Published Sep 05, 2023
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As one of the top Americans at the US Open, Dana Mathewson is one busy woman.
In between planning a wedding—she got engaged right before last year's dream run at Wimbledon—and earning her doctorate in Audiology at the University College of London, the world No. 8 has been racking up the victories on the tennis court, too. And along the way, she's breaking down the stigma and busting through glass ceilings as she puts wheelchair tennis in focus through strategic brand partnerships, including a new endorsement deal with Maestro Dobel Tequila.
"Anyone that comes out and sees me play or anyone else in the wheelchair division play, will see that it's not 'wheelchair tennis,'" she says. "It’s tennis. We just happen to be playing in a wheelchair."
Read more as Tennis.com caught up with Mathewson—that is, Dr. Mathewson—ahead of the US Open:
Welcome to New York! With the US Open wheelchair competition about to kick off, how have you been spending these first few days in the city?
MATHEWSON: I think the first few days are always kind of fun. They're definitely a little less stressful just because I don't know who I'm playing yet, I get to know I have practice days, I can kind of settle in, I get to come do events and activations... so it's super fun.
But yeah, there's that definite sense of urgency to start playing. We're gonna get to start practicing on the ground starting tomorrow. This is my favorite part of a tournament actually, just when you're getting your bearings… Literally the calm before the storm.
What do you like to do when you’re in New York? How does Dr. Dana Mathewson do NYC?
MATHEWSON: Gosh, honestly, the older I've gotten, I'm so boring! Like, I go back and order food and just watch tennis. But no, I love New York. It's very different to where I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego. So like when I saw Times Square for the first time, going to a Broadway show—or like, there's literally any type of food that you could ever want at any time of day.
I think that's probably my favorite thing, the food here. The sushi restaurants here? Amazing. And to be honest, I like your dim sum here a lot. I'm half Chinese, and it does get my stamp of approval!
What does your preparation look like when you're coming into this part of the season, and does it change as you prepare for a Grand Slam?
MATHEWSON: You definitely have a little bit of a different focus when you're going into a Slam. The four Slams obviously mean the most, so you're putting in a little bit extra effort to your practices, a little bit of extra preparation in terms of your mental stuff.
I think being an American competing at the US Open, there's a little bit more pressure. So I think I put a lot more work into my mental skills and try to make this feel just like any other tournament and not like the US Open. Everything's the same, it's just a little bit ramped up.
You made history last year when you became the first American woman to win a Grand Slam in wheelchair tennis at Wimbledon, teaming up with Yui Kamiji and defeating Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot in the final. Take me back to that amazing week—which started with you becoming engaged and ended with you becoming a major champion.
MATHEWSON: It was an amazing week. My fiance and I had talked about getting engaged, but I didn't know when it was going to happen. And so he proposed to me the Saturday before Wimbledon, and I think I played that final on a Sunday. So it was literally just within a week of each other!
I didn't think that I was going to get to that match. I was just kind of hoping to have a good match. And then when the scores were starting to go the way they were, you're like, Oh my god, I might get the big trophy today. And you start to kind of panic a little bit, then you get more excited.
Honestly, it was kind of like an out of body experience. It’s something that I'll be so proud of forever, but yeah—I still can't believe that was all within an eight day period!
Winning a Grand Slam and completing a doctorate are two incredible achievements. As someone who has done both, where do they rank in your mind?
MATHEWSON: Oh gosh, I don't know! I feel like I would initially want to say the doctorate, just because it took so long for me to get that done. Not that I didn't train for hours and hours to get the Wimbledon title.
Both of them mean so much to me. But it's like apples and oranges, I think, because I consider my academic and my athletic side to be two different parts of me. So I honestly haven't even thought about that until you asked me... It’s a great question! It's like when you ask a parent which kid is their favorite—they're both equally important to me.
So do you see yourself going into the field of Audiology after your tennis career?
MATHEWSON: I actually might have done all that work for nothing, to be honest! I’ve actually been in talks with the USTA considering that I might want to stay in tennis, but in the corporate side of tennis. I think that is really attractive to me now. Being a player, you really understand so much of the tennis world—but there's so much about the tennis world that I still don't know, and I’m really intrigued by that. I've talked with different people involved in major events and marketing, and I’m just trying to learn about all the different avenues of it. I'm kind of intrigued by that as a career.
But I will always have a doctorate in the back of my pocket, just in case.
Bringing it back to the present, you are the first wheelchair tennis player that’s sponsored by Maestro Dobel Tequila. How special is this partnership for you?
MATHEWSON: Oh, it's super exciting to be partnering with Maestro Dobel Tequila. They're also the first official tequila of the US Open, which is really exciting... getting in on the ground floor with a brand that's so influential as they are.
I think it's amazing that they've chosen to have a wheelchair player as part of their roster, so that I can help showcase wheelchair tennis and showcase their brand as well. To do that at their inaugural year with the US Open is really exciting.
Have you always been a tequila girl? And if so, what is your go-to way of drinking it?
MATHEWSON: Well, I grew up in San Diego, so margaritas were like my initial way of enjoying tequila. But now that I've made and I've tried an Ace Paloma, I think that way is my new favorite!
And finally, you mentioned how amazing it is to be on a Dobel roster that includes incoming world No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka and top American Taylor Fritz. Seeing these types of endorsement opportunities coming to more and more wheelchair players, what does that do for the sport?
MATHEWSON: It's huge... Honestly, I think that the United States is one of the best places to live, physically, if you have a disability. But in terms of like, the emotions or the cultural acceptance of physical disability, or even mental disabilities, it’s not the best place.
I think we've been a bit behind in terms of supporting athletes like myself, especially on a big stage like Dobel is doing with me, so I think this is huge. I think it's groundbreaking. And I think it sets the tone for other brands to not just ‘accept’ athletes like myself, but to celebrate athletes like myself.
There's a lot of misconceptions, that just because you use a wheelchair, you're not athletic, you're not strong or that your level of athleticism is automatically lower than someone that's playing tennis on their feet. Anyone that comes out and sees me or anyone else in the wheelchair division play will see that it's not wheelchair tennis. It’s tennis. We just happen to be playing in a wheelchair.
I think it's really amazing that a brand like Maestro Dobel wants to showcase that, not just to the US Open, but to the world. And that I get to help do that is so exciting.