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‘I want to be number one’: Wheelchair tennis rookie dreams big

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Off the court, Saalim Naser is a humble teenager.

He smiles nervously as we set up the camera for an interview.

However, as he speaks, it becomes clear that this shy 18-year-old from Melbourne’s northern suburbs is driven by a big ambition.

“I want to be number one and I want to be the best in the world,” he says, “gotta put in the hard work.”

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That ambition translates on the court where he’s ultra competitive.

“He’s a grinder, a bit like Lleyton Hewitt,” says Naser’s hitting partner, Heath Davidson, the current world number five in quad wheelchair tennis.

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Saalim Naser and Greg Crump’s first tennis practice session together

Born with spina bifida, Naser’s tennis journey began at the age of nine when renowned Australian wheelchair tennis coach Greg Crump discovered his talent during a visit to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

“He had that x-factor straight away. So, as soon as he got released from hospital, we invited him to come down to Melbourne Park and do some sessions,” Crump says.

“And then he hooked on with a private coach and the rest is history, as they say.”

History at the US Open

Naser has since risen through junior ranks and, in May, he lifted the ITF World Team Cup in Portugal.

Three wheelchair tennis players raise their arms in celebration, holding a trophy along with their coach.
Saalim Naser (centre) was part of Australia’s junior wheelchair tennis team who won this year’s ITF World Team Cup.(Supplied: Twitter –  Tennis Australia)

Now, the junior world number seven faces his toughest test: the US Open.

Naser has travelled to New York this week to compete in the inaugural junior wheelchair tennis tournament at a grand slam.

Over three days, 16 players aged between 14 and 18 years and hailing from 11 countries, will take part in the matches to be held over three days.

“I’m very excited and nervous, but I think it’s going to be a great tournament,” Naser says.

“I think it’s great what they’re doing for junior wheelchair athletes.”

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