The first Surbiton Wheelchair Tennis Tournament saw thirteen wheelchair players comprising Wimbledon champions, Paralympians as well as Grand Slam winners go toe-to-toe in the bid to gear up for Wimbledon.
This marks the first time players have had an opportunity to put their grass-court game to the test in a tournament setting right before heading to SW19 a.k.a. the Wimbledon Centre Court, where three British contestants will be leaving no stone unturned to retain their titles.
For those unaware, wheelchair tennis is basically a form of tennis that is made suitable for individuals with disabilities, specifically in their lower bodies. While there's no difference as far as the size of rackets, balls and courts are concerned, there's still a couple of striking difference from pedestrian tennis:
1) Players use wheelchairs that are exclusively designed for them.
2) The ball may bounce twice with the second bounce even occurring outside the court.
British wheelchair tennis player Lucy Shuker decided to play the sport after she suffered a paralysis stroke that affected her body waist down. The Double Paralympic bronze medallist had a motorbike accident.
In company with her partner Jordanne Whiley, she made it to the finals of Women's wheelchair doubles at Wimbledon, but much to her chagrin she lost to the team of Jiske Griffioen and Aniek van Koot back in 2012. But she was one of the finalists at the US Open USTA Wheelchair Tennis Championships.
Aside from that, Shuker went on to win a bronze medal in the doubles at Rio 2016 as well as London 2012 along the side of Whiley.
It hasn't all been smooth sailing for the 37-years old Brit. There were many who tried to throw cold water on her goals to compete by deeming her "too disabled" to be in the running, Shuker said.
Despite realizing that she's the most disabled individual on the tour, Shuker managed to make a chair with straps that allow her to pit herself against other opponents. Nevertheless, this isn't child's play.
On the bright side, having to deal with the disability on a regular basis not only made her stronger but also simplified the tough task of coping with her disability.
With four Grand Slams arriving in New York, Wimbledon, Paris and Melbourne, top players will be heading to the aforesaid venues to play the game.
Still riding high off his men's single win at this year's French Open, Alfie Hewett will be defending a title he acquired by overcoming the men's doubles at Wimbledon alongside Gordon Reid, who is ranked world No.2 in doubles and No.3 in singles.
Hewett took up the sport back in 2005 making his Paralympic debut in Rio. He acquired two silvers: One in the doubles alongside Reid, and the other after he lost to Reid in the singles.
In order to play in the grass, you have to resort to a different strategy, Hewett said. Since they have not previously had the chance to participate in competitive matches on grass before Wimbledon, Hewett believes this tournament will turn out to be a vital phase of his preparations.
On the first day itself, Gustavo Fernandez outplayed Hewett in a reverse match in Surbiton, following the Briton's victory in Paris.
The Tennis Foundation, which arranged the entire event relies on the warm-up tournament to provide the players the much-needed advantage for Wimbledon, where the wheelchair events kick off Thursday, July 13. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)