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Harborfields wheelchair tennis player Nate Melnyk gets special treat at U.S. Open

Wheelchair tennis' honorary guest Nate Melnyk pulls chips

Wheelchair tennis' honorary guest Nate Melnyk pulls chips held by U.S. Open tournament referee Brian Earley to make the draws for the U.S. Open wheelchair tennis tournament at the 2014 U.S. Open on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Harborfields sophomore Nate Melnyk pulled the chips for the U.S. Open Wheelchair Tournament draw Wednesday.

The 15-year-old from Centerport, who is paraplegic, has played on the Harborfields junior varsity team in doubles and says he will be trying out again for the spring sport.

Wednesday was his first trip to the U.S. Open tournament, but he is a regular at the National Tennis Center in the winter for wheelchair tennis and is part of the USTA's wheelchair tennis program.

According to his father Mike, Nate was injured in a car accident in March 2009, a week after he had taken his first tennis lesson. He suffered a broken neck and lower spine fractures. The neck healed, but the lower spine did not.

"Tennis helps keep me fit," Nate said. "I don't really have a favorite player. I just like tennis in general."

Nate won't be part of this year's Open competition, but his father says he competes regularly and that he won the "C" doubles in the USTA's international wheelchair tournament this summer, and has won smaller tournaments in both singles and doubles. He also plays at Eisenhower Park. Nate has attended a wheelchair tennis camp in Salt Lake City and a USTA/ITF camp in Los Angeles.

"He's an incredibly talented athlete and person," said Dan James, the USTA's manager of wheelchair tennis. "He has great tennis skills and a lot of potential."

"The best thing about tennis for Nate is that the people he interacts with are great role models, very positive people," his father said. "He's met so many kids and adults who live very good lives, and that's important."

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