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Paralympic Legend profile: David Hall
It is hard to believe that David Hall once struggled to make his mark on the wheelchair tennis world. Thrilled to be on the 1992 Australian Team competing at the Barcelona Paralympic Games, Hall dreamt of medal glory in his first Paralympic appearance.
“I lost in the first round,” Hall said.
“From a competitive stand point, it was not the ideal performance I was hoping for, but I learnt a lot from those Games and it was an overall great experience for me.”
Fast forward 13 years, Hall retired as Australia’s greatest ever player in a career that included Paralympic gold, silver and bronze medals and well as 16 grand slam titles, 18 Super Series Titles and six years as the International Tennis Federation World Wheelchair Tennis Champion.
But all it started with that loss.
After his disappointing first Games, Hall set off with fellow Australian wheelchair tennis player Dave Johnson on the ‘Dave and Dave’ tour around the United States, playing tournament after tournament. By the end of 1993, He had climbed inside the top ten in the world rankings.
Excited by the many tournaments readily available to him in the northern hemisphere, Hall moved to the United States where he met tennis coach Rich Berman. Hall credits Berman for lifting his game to even greater heights and setting him on the track that would lead to glory.
“Meeting Rich turned my career around,” said Hall.
“Rich took my game to another level. He taught me how to train properly, he changed my technique and taught me how to act and play like a professional athlete. Working with him caused a massive swing for my game and it payed off.”
In 1995, Hall became the first Australian to win the British Open, before he went on to win the most prestigious tournament on the wheelchair tennis circuit at the birthplace of wheelchair tennis, the US Open.
Not only did he become the first non-American athlete to win the Open, but he secured his place as the ITF world number one player.
“I’d had a fantastic year already but to win the US Open and to make history surpassed all my expectations,” he said.
Hall won a silver and bronze at the Atlanta Paralympic Games in 1996 but the greatest moment of his monumental career came in front of Hall’s home crowd at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games. Defeating American Stephen Welch in one of the Games’ enduring moments, Hall claimed the gold in front of a 10,000 strong home crowd.
“Winning gold in Sydney was the greatest moment of my sporting life,” said Hall.
“It was the time I felt the most pressure in my career. I was ranked number one and in front of a home crowd I felt the pressure to perform. To win the gold in my home town was amazing.”
The gold medal rounded out a year that saw Hall win eight singles titles, a World Team Cup title and a Paralympic silver medal with doubles partner Dave Johnson.
Hall finished up his career in 2005 after a self-declared disappointing result at the 2004 Athens Games – he won the silver medal in the men’s singles and bronze in the men’s doubles with partner Anthony Bonaccurso.
“My expectations to defend my gold medal in Athens were high but I came away with a silver medal instead. With the disappointment I felt, it is probably the low point of my career but if winning a silver medal is the low point of my career, then I can’t complain,” he said.
“After that I was emotionally, physically and mentally worn out. I had achieved everything I had set out to do and I no longer felt the desire to play so I said goodbye to tennis.
“I was actually lying on the couch, eating lamingtons when John Newcombe called, wanting to know if I could help out with Tennis Australia.”
Hall decided it was time to give back to the sport that turned his life around, after he was hit by a car at 16 and had both legs amputated.
Hall now works to improve Australian tennis through coaching, talent search and educating able bodied players about wheelchair tennis.
“I’ve never really said goodbye to tennis,” he said.
“While I don’t wish to be playing again and I don’t miss the training or the flights or the pressure of international competition, I clearly can’t keep away from the sport!”
Story by Rebekka Wake