After an accident left him paralyzed, athlete Brad Parks wondered if he could find a sport to play with a wheelchair. All it took was one swing of the racket for Parks to realize that other people who use motorized wheelchairs might enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to compete in the popular pastime of wheelchair tennis. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) International Tennis Tour began in 1992 with 11 wheelchair tennis tournaments around the world. Today, the sport boasts 160 worldwide tournaments.
People who use power wheelchairs play the game on a typical tennis court and follow most of the same rules as those who play the game standing up. Tennis designed for a player in a motorized wheelchair differs in that it allows for something called the two-bounce rule. This means that the ball can bounce two times before the player is legally allowed to hit it in the direction of his or her opponent.
Some players opt to have specialty power wheelchairs designed for the specific purpose of playing wheelchair tennis. These specialized motorized wheelchairs give players greater agility to move about the tennis court. The ITF International Tennis Tour maintains singles and doubles divisions as well as divisions for men, women, and those with quadriplegia. In the latter case, the league allows players with limited use of their arms and hands to tape a tennis racket to their hand and hit the ball that way.
Few differences exist between these two types of tennis as players use the same size of court, tennis ball, and tennis racket whether they play standing up or sitting down in a power wheelchair. The primary differences are the use of a specialty motorized wheelchair and the rule to allow the ball to bounce two times before one player can hit the ball towards the other player.
In addition to the 160 worldwide wheelchair tennis tournaments its members participate in, those belonging to the ITF International Tennis Tour also have the opportunity to compete in well-known grand slam tournaments. Some of the events open to those who play wheelchair tennis include the Australian Open, Roland Garros, United States Open, and Wimbledon. Wheelchair tennis first became part of the Paralympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988.
At the next Paralympic Games in 1992, wheelchair tennis officially became a recognized competition. Players and coaches have put forth considerable effort promoting it as such and to fight the image of wheelchair tennis as a type of therapy for those with limited mobility. While it can certainly have therapeutic effects, those who play the game simply love to compete. This is true whether they play it standing up or while using a motorized wheelchair.
The next Paralympic Games is scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan, from August 25 to September 6, 2020. It will be the first time since 1964 that Tokyo has had this honor. Wheelchair tennis will be just one of dozens of different sports that people with mobility limitations or other disabilities can participate in with their peers.
Athletes considering participating in the event have just over a year and a half to prepare by designing and ordering a more aerodynamic motorized wheelchair to give them a greater advantage on the tennis court. They will also want to get in as many games as possible on the local level to get a better perspective for their strengths and weaknesses.