Wimbledon arrives and I feel like the cat that got the cream. Centre court tickets to see the action live! No Henman Hill or TV highlights for me.
I love tennis, as a spectator and a wheelchair competitor. Like the rest of the nation, I’m gripped by Wimbledon fever, and excited about the British talent that’s competing.
Last year, Andy Murray took the men’s singles title. And fellow Scot Gordon Reid made history by winning the first ever Wimbledon wheelchair men’s singles tournament. (He also finished 2016 as world number one.)
More British victory came from Jordanne Wiley MBE, who won the wheelchair women’s doubles, with partner Yui Kamiji of Japan.
Wheelchair tennis tournament
Who will win this year’s wheelchair singles and doubles, in the second week of Wimbledon between 13 – 16 July? As a warm up, a new invitation grass court wheelchair tournament takes place at Surbiton from 6 – 8 July.
So the sport’s profile continues to grow, after the powerful volleys of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic games.
Do you wonder how it differs from the standard game? On behalf of Proudlock Associates, I can tell you.
Guide to wheelchair tennis
● players compete on standard sized courts
● players use lightweight and stable specialised wheelchairs, which can withstand extreme turning, spinning and players leaning sideways.
● the wheelchair counts as part of the player. If the ball makes contact with the chair, the point is lost.
● two bounces are allowed.
Fast, exciting games
This adds up to exciting and fast games, where players seem to defy the laws of physics. They stretch and lean in all directions, often travelling at speed to they turn and slam the ball back over the net. Then they spin on a sixpence and use the momentum to get back, ready to receive again.
Double bounce adds drama
For me, wheelchair tennis is truly an endless pleasure. The highly adapted sports chair is the perfect weapon to rush the net. And the ‘two bounce rule’ is another way to keep the rally going. Unless of course your opponent’s ball hits your chair and you forfeit the point.
Sports chairs even allow non-disabled players to keep playing when joint damage stops them running.
Growing the sport
Wheelchair tennis was seen as rehab for people with spinal injuries when it arrived in the UK in 1970s. This was the starting place for several Paralympic journeys, such as that of double Paralympic champion, Peter Norfolk OBE, aka the Quadfather. Peter will be BBC commentator for this year’s wheelchair doubles and singles. (Follow him on Twitter @petenorfolk).
The Quadfathers, Gordon Reids and Jordanne Wileys of the future – and those of us doing it for serious fun – need access. It’s not quite as simple as picking up a racket and heading to the lawns.
While the rackets and court sizes are the same, surfaces matter when it comes to playing wheelchair tennis.
● traditional grass and clay surfaces can be tough for wheelchair players, particularly if it’s wet and muddy.
● indoor carpets (loved by players seeking relief for battered knees) make manoeuvring hard work when you have to turn wheels.
● smooth and firm surfaces such as PVC work well and are the popular choice.
Tennis wheelchairs have angled wheels and a wide wheelbase to provide stability. As a result, chairs can often be more than 1m wide. Standard door width is just 800mm and so players often have to carry extra kit and assemble their chairs on court.
Access and fire safety
To develop as a player, you also need access to changing rooms, showers and toilets.
And there’s also fire safety issues involved with being indoors, strapped into a wheelchair that won’t fit through the door.
There are factors to consider to make tennis clubs accessible for all future stars, but they are not insurmountable. Get in touch with me at email@example.com to find out what you need.
Meanwhile, if you see me tucking into my strawberries and cream centre courtside, do come and say hello (I won’t give up my seat). And well done to Wimbledon for the practical advice it gives disabled spectators, which will help me have the best day ever!
Accessibility advice: happy to help
Do you want to:
● provide accessible events that meet the needs of disabled people?
● understand accessibility, codes of practice and the Equality Act and how it affects your business?
● ensure your works do not discriminate against disabled people, by getting your project assessed by a consultant on the National Register of Access Consultants?
We’re happy to help. Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org