Rules and Classification
What is it?
Wheelchair Tennis is basically the same as Tennis, with one important exception. In Wheelchair Tennis the ball is allowed to bounce twice, and only the first bounce must be inside the court.
Who can participate in Wheelchair Tennis at the Paralympics?
Wheelchair Tennis is open to players with a physical disability that means they have a substantial loss of function in at least one or both legs.
There is a division - the Quad division - which is for players who have in a substantial loss of function in three or more limbs.
Wheelchair Tennis currently has a minimal classification system:
Open: with separate events for men and women;
Quad (short for quadriplegic): a mixed sex category for players affected in three or more limbs.
How is it played?
- Tennis is played on a court, 23 metres long and 11 metres wide.
- There is a net in the middle of the court. Players take up a position at both ends of the court.
- Players use a racket to hit a ball. The ball must go over the net and land inside the court.
- To start, one player hits or ‘serves’ the ball. The other player tries to hit the ball back (or ‘returns the serve’).
- When players hit the ball to each other, this is a ‘rally’. The rally continues until a player misses the ball, hits it into the net, or out of the court.
- The aim of the game is to hit the ball so that the other player misses it.
- A match consists of ‘games’ and ‘sets’.
- The same player serves throughout one game, then the other player serves in the next game.
- A set is a group of games. Usually the first person to win six games wins the set.
- The winner of the match is the first to win two sets.
- Wheelchair tennis has individual (or ‘singles’) and team (or ‘doubles’) events for men and women, and Quad singles and Quad doubles, with men and women competing in the same events.
If someone asked about famous tennis champions, the answer might be ‘Federer’ or ‘Sampras’ or ‘Borg’. More recently you would hear ‘Djokovic’ and ‘Nadal’, of course. But what about ‘Vergeer’? Esther Vergeer has not lost a wheelchair tennis singles match since 2003!
Esther was born in Holland in 1981. When she was eight years old she had an important operation for a problem in her spine. The operation saved her life but she lost the use of her legs. While Esther was recovering from the operation, she learned to play a number of sports including wheelchair tennis. She decided to concentrate on Wheelchair Tennis and since then she has gone on to be described as the most dominant player in professional sports.
This is not surprising if you look at her record. She has won 5 Paralympic titles and 39 Grand Slams, counting both singles and doubles. She has been world number one since 1999, has not lost in singles since 2003, and has currently won nearly 450 matches in a row. At one time she went 26 months without losing a set!
"There are people I admire", she said in an interview. "People who, in spite of whatever setbacks they're faced with, don't let things get them down. They fight for what they want to achieve, which I find a wonderful thing to see."When asked what motivated her to keep improving, she replied “I don't see the ceiling yet. I still see things I can better.”
Better? How much better can you get than 450 matches without a loss?