So after watching the men’s final with me this morning Cora now knows that the ball has to go over the net and stay inside the white lines. She also learned to clap after a good point and wave her flag after a great one…….. of course it was the wrong country’s flag but hey, it’s the thought that counts! 😉
Nice to see something else that’s been going on at Wimbledon for the first time this year…….. 🙂
Wimbledon Brings a New, Inclusive Tradition to Its Exclusive Grass
Gordon Reid of Scotland in a singles match at Wimbledon. This year was the first time Wimbledon held wheelchair singles. Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
WIMBLEDON, England — Wimbledon, a place of hallowed tradition that dates to 1877, was this year both a straggler and a pioneer, introducing into the tournament wheelchair singles matches, a format that has been a fully fledged Paralympic sport since 1992 but had never before been played on grass.
Wheelchair tennis was invented 40 years ago and has developed a professional circuit under the umbrella of the International Tennis Federation that will offer more than $2 million in prize money this season.
Though wheelchair tennis in both singles and doubles has been held at the United States Open since 1991, the Australian Open since 2002 and the French Open since 2007, Wimbledon had been reluctant to include singles competition in its wheelchair program, opting only for doubles since 2006. The soft, slick grass courts, which make for a fast, low ball bounce and make wheelchairs move more torpidly, were considered prohibitive to singles play.
Geoff Newton, a member of the All England Club’s board and the executive director of a charitable foundation whose focus includes bringing tennis to people with disabilities, said wheelchair tennis had been on the club’s radar as it had grown in popularity.
London already hosts an annual season-end tournament event for the wheelchair tour, and Newton cited the rising quality and athleticism of the sport as having been deciding factors in greenlighting singles at the Wimbledon Championships.
“The athletes have proven themselves as being a sufficient standard, and drawing sufficient spectator interest, to warrant inclusion in the Championships,” Newton said. “The Championships, obviously, wants to be inclusive, and in 2016 everything came together. We’re immensely proud to have them.”
With the addition of singles, the Club has also greatly increased the total prize money offered to wheelchair players, from 64,000 pounds to £200,000 ($259,000) for the eight men and eight women competing.
For the players, the unknowns of playing on grass have proved challenging. There was no established knowledge of what tactics or equipment modifications would be best suited for playing singles on grass, and players have had to adjust quickly.
Stephane Houdet, a French veterinarian who was the top seed in the men’s draw, planned on using wider tires and a barrage of slices and drop shots. The tires were effective in preventing his wheels from sinking into the court, he said, but the slices and drop shots were abandoned in his first-round match.
“I didn’t know what to do, what to expect,” Houdet said. “It’s very difficult for us to play serve-and-volley; if I would play standing up, I would go for that.”
As when the likes of Serena Williams or Andy Murray take to the grass, rallies have been shorter than on other surfaces because the ball moves quickly and stays low. In wheelchair tennis, the effects have been even more noticeable: Many points are won by winners hit off the returns, and one effective shot far enough from an opponent often ends the rally immediately.
Gordon Reid, a Scottish player who reached the men’s final, found success in pulling his opponents toward the sides of the court, where the grass is lusher and more encumbering than in the worn, hardened areas behind the baselines.
“I think it’s still to be perfected, for sure,” Reid said of his grass-court playbook. “We’ll analyze the matches after this week and look at what went right and what didn’t, and change the preparation. Each match is a bit of a learning experience, and whatever happens this year, I’m sure it’s going to be even better next year.
Reid, who won the Australian Open on hardcourts this year, has enjoyed the increased attention that the addition of singles at Wimbledon has brought to his sport. To his particular delight, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, was one of the spectators for his first-round match.
“Even before this week, some people had doubts on how it was going to look, and if it was going to be awful and nobody was going to want to watch it,” Reid said. “But I think that we proved this week, so far, that people are loving to watch the singles event here, and the standard is pretty high. I think this is the right time, and everybody is just really happy that we’re finally playing singles here.”
Aniek van Koot of the Netherlands, who lost in the women’s singles final Saturday, said she found moving through the lawns exhausting.
”I think after this week, my arms will be falling off,” van Koot said. “It is tiring. The points are short, but after one rally, I need to catch my breath. But we can’t complain. Everyone in British tennis and Wimbledon have been really welcoming and so lovely.”
As she helps create a new tradition of wheelchair tennis at the tournament, van Koot has only one gripe, with an old one.
”I don’t like wearing white,” she said, smiling ruefully about the club’s strict dress code. “Normally I’m always totally in black.”