Luker hopes to pull upset at Georgia Open

Canadian Gary Luker reached as high as No. 15 in the world Quad wheelchair rankings five years ago. He comes to Rome this week for the Georgia Open ranked 39th in the world. / Mara Chaplin, contributed

Canadian Gary Luker has been playing wheelchair tennis for about 14 years, competitively the last 10.

Luker is among more than 70 wheelchair athletes from more than 20 countries in Rome this week for the Georgia Open International Tennis Federation Wheelchair championships.

“I broke my neck diving in shallow water,” Luker said. The accident occurred just six days before his wedding was scheduled in July of 2002.

Luker said a friend he met during rehab was just starting to play wheelchair tennis and was always looking for others to come out to play.

“I was the perfect candidate because I was young and I lived in the area,” Luker said. “It really worked out well and both of us ended up playing for the Canadian National team.”

Gary said a lack of funding now keeps him from playing in as many tournaments as he used to, but he still plays in about seven events a year.

“Chair is easily five grand, probably more, but once you’ve got a chair you’ve got it for years,” Luker said.

Travel costs are not cheap because it’s pretty expensive going from one tournament to the next. He does have some funding thanks to his history with the Canadian National team, but that is somewhat limited.

He tries to play as many of the tournaments in the U.S. as he can get to because the cost for transportation is not as great. Hamilton, Ontario, which is not far from Detroit, is his home.

“I can drive now,” Luker said.

He is excited that the Georgia Open has drawn such a top field, with most of the top international players in the sport. He thinks David Wagner may be one of the favorites in Rome.

Luker has not played in any of the big Grand Slam tournaments over the last decade.

“As far as ranking, I’m not that high up the ladder anymore,” Luker said. “Grand Slams, as far as the quad division, they take the top three in the world and one wild card, so you have to be top four, so it’s harder with quads.”

He did come tantalizingly close to making the Paralympic games in London.

“They take the top 12 and four wild cards to make 16 and apparently I was No. 17. If one person had dropped out I would have gotten in, so that’s the closest I’ve come,” Luker said.

He still thinks there is a chance he could pick up a wild card for the Tokyo games in 2020. He is currently ranked No. 39 in the world, but climbed as high as No. 15 in 2014.

Play at the Georgia Open begins today and continues through Sunday. There is no admission charge for spectators.