Sizzling wheels – how wheelchair tennis grew to become a Grand Slam draw



In 2005, Mistry and Frenchman Michael Jeremiasz received the inaugural wheelchair competitors at Wimbledon, for which they earned £1,300 every. Quick ahead to 2023 and the wheelchair doubles champions on the All England Membership, Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, picked up £13,000 every.

Mistry says he wouldn’t change a factor about his profession, throughout which he travelled the world and made life-long friendships. These occasions might not have been flush with money, however they had been wealthy in expertise – together with a locker-room chat with Agassi earlier than a US Open last.

“If you entered a event in these days you’d pay an entry payment, say £200, and that would come with lodging, meals, entry into the event,” Mistry, a four-time Paralympian who received 68 titles and who was a top-10 participant in singles or doubles for over 12 years, remembers.

“I used to be taking part in the French Open as soon as and sharing with a French man. I did not know him, they simply put us in a room. His loud night breathing was so dangerous that I truly needed to take my pillow and my quilt and sleep within the hallway.

“In the present day everybody’s obtained particular person rooms, they have their coaches with them, they’re flying first-class. It is a totally different world. I feel in a median 12 months, even in the direction of the tip of my profession, I used to be in all probability incomes £20,000 for the 12 months and I’d have accomplished 20 tournaments.”

When it was introduced in August 2001 that the next 12 months’s Australian Open would characteristic a wheelchair competitors, Tennis Australia president Geoff Pollard stated: “This new initiative provides us an opportunity to proceed to develop the game by showcasing the world’s finest.”

Staging the wheelchair sport in the identical time and house as a Grand Slam modified perceptions, integrating wheelchair tennis into the non-disabled sport in a means that’s, as Mistry places it, “in-built, not bolted on”.

He provides: “It is not solely it being on the Grand Slams which supplies it a type of credibility, however the publicity of being a part of the occasion too.

“It provides a terrific deal in the direction of the inclusive nature that wheelchair tennis brings.”

The publicity has helped the likes of Alcott, all-conquering Dutch legend Esther Vergeer, and Mistry’s compatriot and eight-time Grand Slam singles champion Hewett – who was on the shortlist for the 2023 BBC Sports activities Persona of the 12 months – develop into real stars.

Nowadays it is not uncommon for a wheelchair occasion to run inside an ATP or WTA occasion – the distinguished Queen’s Membership event in London is amongst these to stage one – and this pattern appears to be like set to proceed.

Vergeer, who runs a event in Rotterdam, informed the ITF in 2020:, exterior “The common standalone wheelchair tennis tournaments must exist and they’re very, crucial for the event and the expansion of the game.

“However to lift the profile of wheelchair tennis and getting it seen by increasingly more public I feel it can be crucial that we’re integrating increasingly more tournaments all year long.”

Combining with the non-disabled sport has helped wheelchair tennis’ continued progress. By final 12 months, the Wheelchair Tennis Tour, which started in 1992 with a handful of occasions, had expanded to a circuit of 169 tournaments in 40 international locations.

The tour encompasses seven tiers, in addition to a junior sequence. Its recognition can also be booming.

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