By Ros Satar with Gemma-Louise Stevenson, in Melbourne
- The Australian Open 2018 Wheelchair Tennis draws are out
- We speak to Gemma-Louise Stevenson to preview this year’s competition
- Three key things to know
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Britwatch Sports spoke with Gemma-Louise Stevenson ahead of the start of the Wheelchair Tennis draws.
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Quick Rules Recap
Wheelchair tennis is exactly the same as standing tennis, except that the players are allowed two bounces. The first must land inside the court but the second bounce doesn’t have to, which is where you see the tactics come into play. The elite players will tend to strike off the first bounce so that it gives their opponent lest time to attack, and adds pace to the game.
There are two divisions: Open and Quads. In the Open division, only their lower limbs are affected but in Quads, three or more limbs are affected so you might see athletes throw, serve and wheel with the same arm, like South Africa’s Lucas Sithole.
For spectators, it is one of the easiest sports to watch because there is not much fundamentally diferent about it. The scoring is the same – they play three tie-break sets. You will often see the singles players also in the doubles – and you see the different sides to their game and where their strengths in singles comes from the doubles.
For example, Britain’s Lucy Shuker comes from a badminton background, but has great hands and feel at the net – she is a popular choice in doubles but is also a very good singles player.
The growth of wheelchair tennis in the UK
The current generation of players work as hard off the court as they do on the court. Alfie Hewett plays the tour all year round, and also volunteers at his local club when he is at home.
Gordon Reid is really active with Tennis Scotland and encourages tennis players there, while Shuker mentors other athletes and really gives back to the sport.
Andy Lapthorne is just passionate about the sport – he’s not just worried about his game, he thinks about the legacy of the quads division and what he alongside the other top players can do to make sure that future players in the division have even more opportunities than he has had.
The governing body, Tennis Foundation, hae done a lot to grow the grass roots of the sport in Britain. The British Open and The Masters are all live-streamed to provide access to as many people who want to watch it.
What’s at stake at the Australian Open?
The men’s draw is going to be tough this year with Reid and Hewett drawn in the same side of the draw, Reid, up until the last half of the year had the advantage over Hewitt in their head to heads. Hewett got his first win over Reid around this time last year, and then at the Masters final in the back end of last year, it was Hewett coming out on top. They are both equally good players so on their day any one of them can come out on top.
In the women’s draw, Lucy Shuker stands a good chance in both the singles and the doubles. Although last year, Yui Kamiji (JPN) and Diede de Groot (NED) dominated the tour last year, already this year there have been shocks with De Groot not making it to finals.
In the Quads the one to watch is wildcard Heath Davidson who is much improved in the last 12 months. Britain’s Andy Lapthorne has all the shots in his game to beat top seed David Wagner, and has a good record against him, especially here in Australia.
The Australian Open, however, is Dylan Alcott‘s territory – he has won the title here three times in a row. Last year Tennis Austrailia truly showcased the Quads, which gets less attention on the centre stage as the Open players, and they will be getting an invitational event at Wimbledon this year.
They’re all amazing tennis players – I would encourage anybidy to watch it. You will watch one match, and you will want to watch more.
Britwatch Sports was talking to Gemma-Louise Stevenson
Gemma is a journalist, presenter and commentator with specialisms in para-sport and tennis. She has been following the wheelchair tennis tour for a number of years now reporting from some of the major events, including Grand Slams, for various online, print and broadcast outlets, including Sky Sports and the BBC.
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