Australia

The Australian tennis world number one you might not have heard of

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Archie Graham, who has Asperger's, is about to defend his world title in the INAS Global Games for athletes with an intellectual impairment.

Archie Graham is one of Australia’s most successful tennis players and preparing to defend his title as a world men’s singles champion - but he is barely known in his own country.

This year he has been training hard for the INAS Global Games being held in Brisbane from Saturday.

The competition, hosted by the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability, will see more than 1,000 athletes from 48 countries taking part, and 25-year-old Graham will co-captain the Australian team.

“It’s a big massive honour and privilege to play for your country, there’s no bigger honour than that, and putting on the green and gold,” he told SBS News. 

“I’m looking forward to the challenge. Bring it on.”

Archie Graham
Tennis champion Archie Graham.
Stefan Armbruster/SBS News

Graham, who has Asperger's syndrome and identifies as Indigenous, used to hit a ball around his grandmother’s garden before starting formal tennis training a decade ago in the Queensland city of Ipswich.

Within a few years he was winning Australian titles and then dominating the international competition.

Since 2015 he has won back-to-back world singles titles in Ecuador, the United States, England and France, won two world doubles titles, and has twice been awarded ‘Most Outstanding Athlete with a Disability’ by Tennis Australia.

“I like hitting all the big shots, massive groundstrokes, and playing with a lot of intensity,” he said.

“It’s just pretty surreal, playing for Australia and winning. That last point, it is an emotional sort of scene, I get very ecstatic, winning the titles against the world.” 

Graham with his coach Stan Cuthbert.
Graham with his coach Stan Cuthbert.
Stefan Armbruster/SBS News

His coach Stan Cuthbert couldn't be more proud of his success, both on and off the court. 

“His greatest achievement so far is in himself, his development as a person, he’s had a lot of difficulties and he never ever whinges about those problems that he’s had, he just overcame them and has gone on to be a very good tennis player,” he said.

“He’s one of the best kids I’ve coached, and I’ve coached for 45 years, Archie is one of the highlights.”

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Graham hopes to inspire others to take up a new challenge.

“Tennis is bit challenging for me, some things I try to understand and I don’t grab it on quickly enough but eventually I do. That’s the challenge learning different things from different people,” he said.

“It’s helped me do a lot of things, it’s taken me around world, I’ve made new friends, and I like being outdoors and active.

“There’s a whole big world out there and if you like something, just give it a go, because you’ve got nothing to lose.”

Cuthbert has seen the impact playing tennis has had on Graham over the past 10 years.

“He’s become more confident, certainly more fitter,” he said.

“Plenty of people have ability but not the dedication. He had immense dedication to what he does and it shows in the way he plays and the improvement - but he’s an exceptionally modest lad.”

Graham has been preparing for his new role as co-captain of the Australian team at the INAS Global Games, but he's also hoping to notch up another world title.

“Five straight singles titles, and to win a third world doubles, and add a mixed-doubles title to that tally,” he said with a smile. 

SBS is the official media and educational partner of the INAS Global Games 2019 which take place 12-19 October in Brisbane. SBS Sport will be covering the events and SBS Learn has classroom resources for teachers. 

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