LTA hopes Paralympic ‘role models’ inspire next generation in wheelchair tennis

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The Lawn Tennis Association hopes to build on Paralympic success by making tennis the disability sport of choice in Great Britain.

British players picked up four medals in Tokyo, with silvers for Jordanne Whiley and Lucy Shuker and Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett in the women’s and men’s doubles and bronzes for Whiley – the first for a British woman – and Reid in the singles.

Whiley, Reid and Hewett have also been regular winners at grand slam level over a number of years and Matt Grover, the LTA’s wheelchair talent pathway manager, hopes they can help encourage more people to get involved in the sport.

Jordanne Whiley celebrates her historic bronze medal in Tokyo
Jordanne Whiley celebrates her historic bronze medal in Tokyo (Tim Goode/PA)

He told the PA news agency: “We’re using our athletes as role models. Physical impairment can be seen as a barrier to participating in sport and wanting to give something a go.

“Our athletes in the limelight, on TV, having the success, breaks down those barriers and gives a young person someone to look up to to overcome those adversities and think, ‘I could be the next Jordanne, I could be the next Alfie’.

“The current success we’ve got in wheelchair tennis and that fact that now on the elite side you can have a professional career, you can compete at all the grand slams, you can compete at the Paralympics and also it’s becoming increasingly integrated with the men’s and women’s games.

“You’re alongside players like Andy (Murray), Serena (Williams), Rafa (Nadal), (Roger) Federer, (Novak) Djokovic. It’s fantastic.”

Over the last two weekends, the LTA has held wheelchair tennis initiative talent ID days at Scotstoun in Glasgow and the London Paralympic venue of Lee Valley to introduce children and adults to the sport.

Grover said: “We were looking to try to engage and inspire as many people as possible to give wheelchair tennis a go and, who knows, there may be people who have the aspiration to be our next wheelchair tennis champion.

“Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun and the way we want these days to go is that everyone goes away wanting more. I don’t think it could have gone any better in that sense.”

Participants at the LTA's wheelchair talent ID day at Lee Valley
Participants at the LTA’s wheelchair talent ID day at Lee Valley (Harriet Lander/LTA handout)

Grover is excited by the cohort of young talent coming through behind Hewett, Reid, Whiley and Shuker, led by 16-year-old Ben Bartram, 18-year-old Abbie Breakwell and 17-year-old Ruby Bishop.

But a key priority is ensuring the sport can be accessed at more venues across the country.

“We’ve got a fantastic programme in Open Court, which is a Sport England and LTA funded programme where we work with over 400 venues across Great Britain to deliver disability specific and inclusive activities,” said Grover.

“Of those 400, we have around 55 venues that deliver wheelchair-specific sessions but what we’re trying to do moving forward, in line with our wider organisation vision of tennis opened up, is to allow players of any impairment to access any sort of club regardless of age, ability or standards.

“We want to be seen as the disability sport of choice and the only way we can do that is by creating opportunities and bringing on board more clubs across Great Britain to start delivering wheelchair tennis sessions.

“If we don’t have that aspect, we’re not going to grow the numbers of people accessing the sport.”

:: For information on how to access future wheelchair tennis initiative days visit: www.lta.org.uk/play-compete/performance-tennis-players/wheelchair-tennis-initiative/

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