What you need to know about tennis at the Paralympics:
Where it all began. Wheelchair Tennis was invented in 1976 by Brad Parks, the sport has grown at an amazing rate: now fully integrated into all four Grand Slam Tennis events, and with more than 170 tournaments on the ITF’s own Wheelchair Tennis Tour, it is more popular than ever. Wheelchair tennis featured in an exhibition at the Seoul Paralympics in 1988, before becoming a full medal event at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympics. The quad division made its Paralympic debut at Athens 2004.
Silver for Norfolk and Lapthorne. Peter Norfolk’s reign as Olympic champion may have come to an end when he lost in the quarter-finals of the men’s quad singles, but the two-time gold medallist picked up a silver in the quad doubles alongside Andy Lapthorne at Eton Manor on Wednesday, the duo battling hard against reigning champions David Wagner and Nick Taylor of the USA. Norfolk, who is unlikely to make it to Rio in 2016, was his usual steady self, keeping his younger fist-pumping partner motivated as they battled the Americans over three sets, narrowly missing out on gold 2-6, 7-5, 2-6.
Here come the crowds. Just like the Olympic tennis, the Paralympic tennis had boasted crowds it has never witnessed, a Davis Cup atmosphere surrounding Eton Manor as the sport’s stars show off their skills. “London has been astronomically better than anything else and it will be hard to top,” Norfolk said. Eton Manor is the only new permanent London 2012 Paralympic venue, and boasts nine courts and temporary training pools for participants in Olympic and Paralympic Aquatics events. “The crowd have been amazing and this has been the best experience of my life,” Lapthorne said.
Astonishing skills. If you haven’t ever seen wheelchair tennis, it is quite awe-inspiring what the athletes manage to achieve. They are allowed two bounces of the ball, wheeling themselves around the court, keeping spare balls to serve in the wheels of their chair. In the quad division, for athletes who have three limbs which are disabled, you will often see players with their rackets strapped to their arm, but the most astonishing is Nick Taylor, who serves by balancing the ball between his feet, kicking it up into the air, and then hitting it.
The brilliant Vergeer. The superstar of wheelchair tennis is Esther Vergeer, who is in the midst of an unbeaten match-winning streak of 469 matches. Her last loss came in January 2003, and the Dutchwoman is aiming for her third gold singles medal. “If I were to lose I think not taking gold [would be more of a disappointment]. I’m not worried about my streak. I’m not planning to go through to 500 wins. It (the winning streak) just happens, I don’t plan for it,” Vergeer said. “Everybody expects me to win. I work hard for it and I know I can win a gold medal.”