History was made at Wimbledon this year with the addition of wheelchair singles events. Previously, wheelchair tennis was played only in doubles at Wimbledon. For Clinical Corner this month, let’s take a closer look at the sport of wheelchair tennis, from both competitive and recreational levels.
The rules of wheelchair tennis are simple. The only difference between the rules for wheelchair tennis and tennis for able-bodied individuals is that the ball is allowed to bounce twice before being returned by the individual in the wheelchair, while the ball is allowed to bounce once for able-bodied players. The size of the court, racquet and ball are the same1. “The beauty of wheelchair tennis is that you can play with your able bodied family and friends as well as other wheelchair players.”2, 1st paragraph. This lets wheelchair tennis be a great recreational sport for individuals to play in their communities.
On a more competitive level, individuals who play wheelchair tennis may be designated into one of two classes, which are open class and quad class. Classification allows for individuals with similar functional abilities to play against each other, which enhances fairness in competition. Individuals who are in an open class “have a significant and permanent impairment of one or both legs and normal arm function. This profile may match with athletes with paraplegia or leg amputations, for example.”3, 4th paragraph. Players in quad class “have an impairment affecting their playing arm as well as their legs. This limits their ability to handle the racket and to move in the wheelchair.”3, 5th paragraph. Individuals who are in the quad class may use tape to assist in the secure grip of the racket.
Wimbledon has the additional challenge of being a grass court. The grass court increases the rolling resistance of the wheelchair over the court. (For more information on rolling resistance, refer to a previous Clinical Corner article: Rolling Resistance in Manual Wheelchairs.) Gordon Reid, winner of the inaugural men’s single title in wheelchair tennis, stated ‘You push the same way as you would on a hard court, but you're constantly having to generate power and shift your body weight every time you push the chair.’4, 9th paragraph. Reid described one of his training techniques to prepare him for the grass court – doing bungee work. This involved having his coach run behind him holding a bungee that was attached to Reid’s wheelchair to simulate the resistance similar to grass.4
Jordanne Whiley, winner of the women’s single wheelchair tennis title at Wimbledon, described the importance of sport to her. ‘For me, sport completely changed my life from when I was a young girl. … When I got into tennis, I became confident. I believed in something, which made me believe in myself.’4, 17th paragraph. Sport can be transformative.
Wheelchair Tennis is just one of many sports that can be played from a wheelchair, whether on a competitive or recreational level. Future Clinical Corner articles will focus on other wheelchair sports. Stay tuned!
- Tennis Canada. (2016). Wheelchair Tennis. Wheelchair Tennis History. How it began. Retrieved from http://www.tenniscanada.com/competitive/wheelchair/.
- Tennis Canada. (2016). Wheelchair Tennis. Retrieved from http://www.tenniscanada.com/competitive/wheelchair/.
- International Paralympic Committee. (n.d.). Wheelchair Tennis Classification. Retrieved from https://www.paralympic.org/wheelchair-tennis/classification.
- Edworthy, S. (2016). Historic draw for inaugural wheelchair singles events. Retrieved from http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/news/articles/2016-07-05/historic_draw_for_inaugural_wheelchair_singles_events.html