30/08/2021

Spotlight On... Wheelchair Tennis

Gordon Reid

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports, try them! 

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world. 

In the next part of the series, we caught up with three talented young players about what makes tennis so great. 

We spoke to 18-year-old Abbie Breakwell, the world number three in the girls’ game, 16-year-old Ben Bartram, the world number two in the boys’ game, and 14-year-old Ruben Harris, the world number 29 junior. 

Tell us about how you got into tennis and your progression to where you are today. 

Abbie Breakwell: "I first got into tennis by being a ball crew member at the British Open in 2015, I then got asked if I’d like to come and have a go at the sport. 

"I started playing tennis the week after I did the ball crew, and then about a year later I played at the first National School Games. It was quite quick! 

"The year after that I got selected to play for Great Britain at the World Team Cup so the progression has been quick."

Ben Bartram: "I got into tennis when I was 10 or 11. I went to a Push 2 Podium event which lets you try it out and I haven’t really stopped playing since. 

"It’s quite surreal to think I’ve come so far, I have no words really. I’m working on my men’s ranking now and trying to get that up and up and up." 

Ruben Harris: "I started playing wheelchair tennis when I was ten. I got into it through my local tennis club, Polo Farm, I absolutely loved it and so carried on doing it. 

"I did some sessions with my coach and I still loved it so I competed in my first tournament and kept going from there."

Why tennis over other sports? 

AB: "Over the years I’ve tried lots of different sports in and outside of school, I’ve tried both non-disability and disability sports. 

"Tennis was the first disability sport that I played, and the first where I really felt at home. 

"With other sports I always felt I was too clumsy and not good enough to be able to play, but tennis was the first where I felt I had a chance to do well. They had to drag me off the court the first time!" 

BB: "I played wheelchair basketball when I was younger and, to be honest, I was the sorest loser imaginable when we lost. 

"I just don’t think me and team sports sit well, so I tried tennis and here I am. I definitely enjoy the individualism of it." 

RH: "I’ve tried multiple different sports before such as wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball. 

"But tennis is such a social sport I think. I tried it and loved it."  

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport? 

AB: "I think it would be knowing I could get into the sport from an earlier age. The sport has really boosted my confidence, to be able to do interviews like this has helped me and even to be able to go and have conversations with people I don’t really know. 

"It’s helped me build friendships with people outside school. I’d say the biggest thing though is learning that defeats are just as important as the wins. You probably learn more off those than the ones that you win. 

"Knowing that from a young age, that it’s okay to fail, would be definitely something I’d tell my younger self." 

BB: "I would probably tell myself to listen to my coach! 

"I somehow thought that I knew tennis better than someone who’d played it their whole life. I was probably annoying to coach. I’d tell myself to have that discipline." 

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far? 

AB: "I’d say it has to be when I got selected for Great Britain. 

"I had a meeting with Rob Cross [LTA Technical Performance Coach] to see how we we’re going to progress. He said at the end of the meeting ‘right you’re going to play for Great Britain at the World Team Cup’. 

"I was very professional and calm but when we finished the meeting I did a big happy dance. I couldn’t believe it was happening. Seeing the look on my parents’ face, his face and mine, it was just full of joy.

"Inside I was screaming. Finally, I’d got where I wanted to be." 

RH: "Probably my biggest memory is first getting on the court. 

"I’ve got memories of lots of tournaments along the way, and making friends too. You look back on where you were back then and then see how far you’ve come now." 

What's the best thing about tennis? 

AB: "One of the things I love about is that you get to meet so many different people from different countries and different backgrounds. It’s a sport that brings everyone together. 

"Also, I’ve learnt so much about myself. The sport has made me realise how determined I can be and showed how much resilience I have. It’s shown me who I am, what I can do and that there are no barriers in life." 

BB: "Winning is very nice, the winning feeling is pretty great. The social side is very good too, I’ve made lifelong friends in tennis. 

"I wouldn’t have met these people if I hadn’t started playing tennis." 

What’s something only a tennis player would know or appreciate?   

AB: "We play in all weather, rain, wind, snow, hail, anything! We’ve played in 32 degrees to minus three. When it’s minus three you’ve got so many layers on you look like a snowman. 

"I remember one time my coach was feeding me balls and I had this massive poncho on to try and keep my wheels dry so I could push a bit. 

"It’s about learning how to play and adapt in those situations, it’s difficult especially in England where the weather can change quite drastically." 

RH: "The weather. I’ve played even when my court has been frozen over.  

"It’s difficult and a lot of hard work." 

What would you say to someone considering trying tennis? 

AB: "I would say don’t be afraid to give it a go. 

"I’m a level two coach and I help to get more people involved in tennis. A lot of the time I see people afraid to have a go. 

"Ask and have a go, there’s nothing bad that can happen from it. It’s always good to try new experiences." 

BB: "Why not? What is there to lose? 

"I would be very shocked if someone tried it and they didn’t enjoy it." 

RH: "Just persevere through life and tennis. If you have to make adaptations then do it, but just don’t give up." 

 

Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give wheelchair tennis a try? Check out our club finder!