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ASAPD Q&A with Archie William Graham

Image by: ABC News: Chris Gillette

Archie Graham has accomplished extraordinary sporting success. Starting his tennis career at 15 years old, today, Archie holds the World #1 ranking in the PWII class, and has five world tennis singles championships to his name. 

Born with Asperger’s Syndrome, Archie not only competes against his peers with intellectual impairments but he also fearlessly challenges himself on the mainstream circuit.

Despite his success, he remains humble and is recognised for treating all players with respect, regardless of their skill level. He dedicates time to mentoring younger athletes, teaching them the importance of good sportsmanship and the attitude and hard work needed to succeed. 

A proud indigenous Australian, Archie has earned multiple Newcombe Medals recognising him as Australia’s top player with a disability, and he is eagerly anticipating the upcoming Bruce Lynton BMW Rosebowl Tennis Championships on the Gold Coast in August.

Congratulations on your recent success at the 2023 Virtus Global Games, Archie! Could you share with us what it means to you to win the gold medal in the II-1 men’s singles event and take back the No.1 ranking?
Thank you, the win meant a lot of things to me, initially it was a lot of happiness and relief as I had worked so hard for it.  I won my first World title in 2015 in Ecuador, and in 2019 at the Virtus Global Games in Brisbane I was Australian team captain going for title number 5 but lost to Great Britain’s Dominic Ianotti in the semi final.  We haven’t played a World event since then due to Covid.  We went to Poland last year for the European Championships and I was hoping to win back my number 1 ranking from Dominic but he wasn’t there.  So I have had to wait four years, it has been a lot of hard work and a lot of waiting and a huge relief when finally, it happened.

The Virtus Global Games is a significant event for athletes with an intellectual impairment. How did it feel to compete on such a grand stage and represent your country in an event of that magnitude?
It is always an honour and privilege to represent your country. As a proud indigenous Australian it is a great honour to represent my country and people, this was the seventh time I have been able to do that.

As someone who competes both in the mainstream circuit and against fellow international players with an intellectual impairment, how do you approach the different challenges and opportunities that each platform presents?
It doesn’t matter what environment I am in,  It is important for me to be true to myself and be who I am.  People react differently in different environments and have different ways of expressing themselves, there is no point trying to be different and fit in with someone who doesn’t treat you the same.  The tennis court is my happy place. It doesn’t matter whether I am training, playing mainstream or internationally, I want to do my best and I want to inspire younger players.

When I am on the tennis court I don’t think of myself as the world champion,  I am focussed on being me and doing my best.  I want to be an inspiration for the younger players so it is very important to me to set the standard of play and behaviour.  I am pleased if people want to beat me, but they will need to work hard for it.

Winning your first world tennis singles title at the age of 21 is an incredible achievement. Can you take us through your journey from picking up the sport at 15 to becoming a five-time world champion?

I have a brother (Lewis) and sister (Belle), we grew up with a tennis court in the backyard, we didn’t play competitively, but we had fun.  My Grandmother used to play tennis and when I was staying with her she would hit balls with me.  My competitive tennis playing started by accident.  I played a range of sports (Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, AFL) at school (St Edmunds College) and one day the tennis team was short a player so I said I can do that, I put my hand up and started playing competitive tennis.  From there I joined my local club and started playing on the weekend.  It was here that I met my coach Stanley Cuthbert.

I played a bit at the Special Olympics and one day one of the players said “You can go bigger than this at National and International level”.  We looked into it and I completed my eligibility registration with Sport Inclusion Australia and entered the 2013 Australian Tennis Championships run by Tennis Australia in Melbourne.  We didn’t know what to expect as we headed to Melbourne, but we were very surprised and pleased to win the Championship and be presented my trophy by Wally Masur.  That was the start, I have won 7 National singles titles and the 5 World singles titles since then.

Tennis requires a combination of physical prowess and mental focus. Are there any specific rituals or routines that you follow before or during a match to help you get into the right mindset and perform at your best?
Preparation is very important to help me get ready and to get into the right mindset before playing.  I have my set of dynamic warm up exercises that I go through including band work,  footwork and stretching. I also use music to help me start to focus on what I am doing. When things aren’t going as well as I like on the tennis court I take my time during the breaks to sit in the chair, reset and take my mind back to where I was doing well.

Alongside your individual success, you also won medals in the II-1 men’s doubles, II-1 mixed doubles, and II-1 men’s team events. How does playing in a team setting differ from individual competition?
It is very different having someone with you on court, learning skills of communicating, talking with each other and thinking about each other.  Physically it is easier but it is harder to maintain focus as I am now focussing on two people and we need to work together.  Sometimes you also need to help lift your partner, and sometimes they need to lift me when things aren’t going right.

I do a lot of work with the Junior development squads in Queensland and I enjoy the opportunities to play doubles with the younger players and helping them on their game.

For individuals who are inspired by your journey, what are some practical steps or resources that you would recommend to those starting their journey in the disability sports sector and want to get involved in competitive sports? Additionally, what advice would you want to give to anyone starting out?
It’s not just about the disability sports sector, it’s about getting into sport and the important role sport can play in our lives to stay fit, healthy and connected.  There are some amazing opportunities within the disability sport sector and pathways which I have benefitted from.  It is important to get out there and have a go, get out of the house and meet new people.  The pathways are there with Tennis Australia and Sport Inclusion Australia and with a lot of other sports as well.

Have a go and see how far you can go!

In addition to your athletic pursuits, are there any specific initiatives or causes that you are passionate about or involved with to create awareness and support for individuals with intellectual impairments?
I am passionate about tennis and I want to give back to my community. I am currently working with Tennis Qld, coaching the junior PWII squads and supporting the National indigenous carnival.

Fast Five:
Top food – Chocolate

Top book – Tennis Australia Magazine

Top destination – Poland

Top person – Rafael Nadal

Top tip – Live your life like it’s your last day.