Although Greg Hasterok is the world's 12th-ranked singles tennis player in his division, you won't catch him serving and volleying at Wimbledon. You can, however, watch him compete this weekend in Southern California.
Along with his partner Ymanitu Silva, Hasterok will be among 36 players from 10 countries competing in the UNIQLO Wheelchair Double Masters. It's a prestigious tournament and Mission Viejo is the only city to ever host it.
The competition began on Wednesday and wraps up Sunday afternoon with the final matches and awards ceremony. Residents will be able to meet the athletes and take photos with them from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday.
After being injured in a motorcycle accident 16 years ago, Hasterok, now 40, spent several years splitting his time between rugby and tennis. He eventually chose the latter.
"I enjoyed the aspect of playing the individual sport where everything is kind of on your shoulders, on how well you do, and just ended up being better at tennis, I think. You get to travel the world, you travel all over doing it, so it's just a blast," Hasterok tells KPCC.
It wasn't always so easy. He broke his back and tore a bunch of nerves in his right arm in the motorcycle crash. "I was right handed. I did have to switch over and learn to play lefty but my left is totally normal," he says.
These days, Hasterok devotes himself to the wheelchair tennis circuit nearly full-time, playing 16 to 20 tournaments a year. He generally plays both singles and doubles in each, competing in the quad division.
Hasterok explains that most wheelchair tennis tournaments are divided into an open division (for men and women who are paraplegics or amputees and are impaired in at most two limbs) and a quad division (for quadriplegics who are impaired in three or four limbs).
"One of the biggest problems is if your hands are paralyzed or you have limited grip strength. A lot of the players tape the racket into their hand much like a club. They have to play, serve, forehand, backhand all out of one grip. I've tried taping and it is horrible. I would never want to do it," Hasterok says.
Not every tennis tournament has a quad division for wheelchair players. The US Open and Australian Open do (Hasterok has played in both) but the French Open and Wimbledon don't, although they do have wheelchair singles and doubles divisions.
That's partially why the Mission Viejo event is so important — and it's not easy to get into. Players generally have to compete in multiple Grand Slams to earn enough points to qualify. Plus, the vibe here is different.
"When they go to one of the Grand Slam tournaments, they are just one of five tournaments. But when you come to this event, the focus is specifically on these athletes," says Jason Harnett, tournament director and USTA national manager for wheelchair tennis. "After watching wheelchair tennis for about 15 minutes, you really don't see the chair anymore, you start to only watch the tennis."
For Hasterok, it's also an easy drive from his San Diego home. "I love it," he says. "The whole community really embraces us. It's an honor to be able to play it because it is our year-end championship."