Following Wimbledon’s announcement that from 2016 it will feature wheelchair singles as well as doubles, bespoken caught up with British wheelchair tennis number one Gordon Reid to get his reaction. Reid is the top ranking British player in both singles and doubles.
Reid, 23, was born in Alexandria, Scotland, and has been playing tennis since he was six. He started playing wheelchair tennis in 2005 and in 2007, became Britain’s youngest men's Singles National Champion.
Currently Britain is one of the strongest nations in wheelchair tennis, along with France and the Netherlands. “We’ve got players in the top ten in men’s, women’s and quads as well as two of the highest ranking juniors in the world,” he says.
Reid, who with his partner Michael Jeremiasz came second in the doubles at Wimbledon 2015, says that there’s a good reason why Wimbledon has been slower than other Grand Slam tournaments to introduce singles – the surface. “Grass courts are harder for us to move on – it’s heavier on the wheels so it’s harder to move around the court,” he explains. “There were fears that it was too difficult to play on grass but players are now strong and fit enough to still be able to produce a high level of tennis on the grass courts.”
Playing on grass is harder work on the body, meaning players get tired more quickly, he says. Initially at least for this reason Wimbledon will not feature singles for quad players.
Grass also requires players to adjust anti-tip mechanisms on their chairs as they may sink into the surface slightly. Some players may change tyres or tyre pressures or their casters.
Reid prefers hard courts and indoors surfaces but is still happy to play on grass. “I like grass as well though – it’s a little bit different, it takes spin well and we don’t get the chance to play on it that often,” he says.
His personal favourite Grand Slam tournament is Roland Garros, which is played on clay. He won his first Grand Slam title there in 2015 in the doubles, partnering Shingo Kunieda (pictured). It is also ahead of the other Grand Slams in prize money terms, he says, paying singles winners €28,000 each (albeit compared to €1.8 million for winners of the pedestrian tennis singles). “It will be interesting to see how much Wimbledon puts into it,” he says. In fact in 2015 the doubles winners at Wimbledon won £12,000 a pair, ahead of €8,000 a pair at Roland Garros.
However the US Open is a Grand Slam highlight in one sense for wheelchair players. “The US Open tries to promote us as much as possible,” he says. “The matches are on the Louis Armstrong court, which is a big court with thousands of spectators. It’s a really good opportunity for us to get on the show courts. We hope the other Grand Slams see that and give us that opportunity as well.”
Grand Slam tournaments are good, he says, because of the number of spectators. Dedicated wheelchair tennis competitions on the other hand often have smaller audiences, with less money available for promotion. “At Grand Slams people see wheelchair tennis and they just love it. The more people we can get watching the better,” he says.
Readers interested in trying out wheelchair tennis will find facilities throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK with chairs available for them to borrow. “That’s how I started out,” Reid says. “Go online to the Tennis Foundation’s website and check out the closest base to you.”
Photo: Gordon Reid and Shingo Kunieda . Source: The Tennis Foundation
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