What is it?
Wheelchair tennis is one of the fastest growing and most challenging of all wheelchair sports.
Who can play?
Anyone with a disability that prevents them from playing able-body tennis.
Although tennis had been played in wheelchairs before, the development of wheelchair tennis really started in 1976 when Brad Parks first hit a tennis ball and realized the potential of this new sport. The mammoth efforts that went into the initial marketing and promoting of the sport, leading to the formation of the International Wheelchair Tennis Foundation (IWTF) in 1988, are almost immeasurable. As news of wheelchair tennis spread across the nation and gradually the world, Brad started to get more and more invitations overseas to help new countries establish wheelchair tennis programs. When the IWTF was formed in 1988, there were just eight member nations.
But it wasn’t until the IWTF gained a full time officer in 1991 that the resources and structure were in place to allow the worldwide development of wheelchair tennis to really take off. From the outset, the IWTF’s development programs were all about increasing awareness of wheelchair tennis around the world. “New” countries were constantly encouraged to become involved and existing countries and established players were encouraged to assist. Often, the initial contact from new countries came through Ellen de Lange’s attendance at the ITF AGM each year where ITF Member Nations would hear about the work of the IWTF and ask if it would be possible to start up a wheelchair tennis program in their country.
As the IWTF started to visit new nations, it became apparent very quickly that the biggest barrier to starting a program in most new countries was the lack of equipment. Over the years, many players have donated their old wheelchairs to new and developing countries to help them start a wheelchair tennis program.
Wheelchair tennis integrated so easily with the able-bodied game since it can be played on any regular tennis court, with no modification to rackets and balls, with the only rule difference being that the wheelchair player gets two bounces. Wheelchair tennis players could easily play with able-bodied friends and family and this integration allowed the game to grow much faster, ensuring that a wheelchair player could get out onto the court to practice with anyone. After only a few months as Executive Secretary in 1991, Ellen had received inquiries from over ten new nations, reflecting the excitement and enthusiasm for the game.
“Up-down” exhibitions continued to be a great way to spread the word, with a wheelchair player teamed up with an able-bodied partner. Many exhibitions were staged around the world, usually in conjunction with ATP/WTA tournaments or Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties. Top professional players such as Jonas Bjorkman, Jim Courier, Ivan Lendl, Gabriella Sabatini, Conchita Martinez, Bjorn Borg, Richard Krajicek, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Yannick Noah, Arthur Ashe, Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, Chris Evert, and Martina Navratilova have all helped to promote the sport through their participation in exhibitions around the world.
Rules and regulations are basically the same as in standup tennis, except the wheelchair player is allowed two bounces of the ball. Wheelchair tennis allows individuals with disabilities the opportunity to share in activities with their family and friends whether disabled or not. Proficient wheelchair users can play and actively compete against stand-up players.
National Governing Body:
United States Tennis Association – http://www.usta.com/
International Governing Body:
International Tennis Federation – http://www.itf.org/