Heath Davidson - my Summer of Tennis
Heath Davidson OAM, is a two-time Paralympian and wheelchair tennis champion. He started playing as a teenager and then stopped playing for 11 years before staging a dramatic comeback.
Heath took time out from his Summer of Tennis tournament prep to share his passion for the game and how the ups and downs of the world circuit help shape his attitude to life.
Where it all started
I first picked up a racket in my early teens. I was extremely overweight, I didn’t really do any physical activity and enjoyed playing video games too much! My dad went and found a tennis coach who was happy to train me and one of my mates, Dylan Alcott.
The game’s given me a lot of pride in myself, being a person with a disability. Back when I was a kid growing up we didn't see people with disabilities on TV. Now, we're on the big stage, we're playing the big tournaments and it's just really cool that we can be in the spotlight giving younger people with a disability an opportunity to feel seen and hopefully inspire them.
How Nick Kyrgios inspired my comeback
I put the racket down when I was 18 and didn’t think I’d play tennis again. I got involved with what you could say was the wrong crowd. I was partying and my life wasn’t going in the right direction.
11 years on, it was actually Nick Kyrgios who inspired me to get back in the game.
It was the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2014 and I’d just watched Kyrgios beat Rafa (Rafael Nadal). It got me thinking, what would happen if I picked up a tennis racket again. After chatting to my junior coach for the first time in seven years, he invited me back to the local club where I first trained.
I started hitting once a week and then it became twice a week. Dylan heard I was back and spoke to Tennis Australia which invited me in. I signed an agreement a week or so later and started training five days a week. I don't think I was quite ready for the five days a week - I wasn't doing any of the right things and I was eating McDonald's. I still do now - so, keep that quiet.
I just wasn't prepared for the impact that level of training was going to have on my lifestyle and my body, but just kept working at it and now I’m in good shape and good form.
A last-minute entry to the Rio Paralympics
I was given a wild card but was then told I hadn’t been playing long enough to quality for the Paralympics. The International Paralympic Committee then invited me and thank heavens they did, because I actually won gold in the doubles, which was cool.
The Rio experience changed my life in a big way. Until then, I saw myself as a professional but casual tennis player. When we got back from Rio, people wanted to talk to me and do interviews and I realised that if I wanted to be seen as a professional athlete, I had to act like one on and off the court. I started dedicating most of my time to tennis, saw improvement and then saw doors open for worldwide travel, doing what I love.
Growing up, there was a lady named Daniella de Toro, who was a wheelchair tennis player. She was a massive mentor to me, especially during my comeback. Not that I want to admit it, but my mate of 22 years, Dylan, has also been an important mentor to me.
Kurt Fearnley’s an inspiration and one of our best-ever Paralympians. He’s a phenomenal athlete and doesn’t let anything get in his way. I guess that's just how I try to live my life now too. The only thing that I can't do at home is get a cup out of the top cupboard.
I also look up to Roger Federer and AFL players Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin.
The ups and downs of tennis and life
Apart from playing doubles, tennis is pretty much a solo sport. At the Rio and then Tokyo Paralympics, we had such a little team. It was four players and two staff members but we’re really close. If one of us wins, we all win and we're always there to support each other and help each other out.
Just like life, tennis isn’t all beer and skittles. The ups and downs translate to life and vice versa. I’ve been lucky and had some success but it’s not always the way.
Last year, I lost a finals match in France against a guy I probably should have beaten. I think it gave me a kick in the bum that I needed - to get back out there and really, really grind it out to get better. I'm currently sitting number three in the world which is cool. It's my highest ever ranking.
I think playing tennis has taught me to be able to deal and cope with different everyday life stresses in a better way. I just try and be as relaxed and easy-going as I can and try not to throw my racket.