Wheelchair Tennis | A Guide To Redefine Disability


Wheelchair Tennis has become the new talk of the town! Originally formed in the late 1980s, the sport became a sensation and a platform for all disabled tennis enthusiasts to play in a competitive environment and make a name for themselves. Today, Wheelchair tennis has become a recognized sport that is watched across the globe. It features all prestigious tournaments and is even considered a core component of the Paralympics.

Despite its increasing popularity, however, the term “wheelchair tennis” still seems confusing to many. To our surprise, wheelchair and regular tennis games have much more in common. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the basics of wheelchair tennis.

For all relevant information and costs on wheelchair tennis see our articles on Quad wheelchair tennis, costs, wheelchair accessory costs, and overall guide. You may be also interested to know more about the speed of wheelchair tennis serve in How Fast Is A Wheelchair Tennis Serve?

How is Wheelchair Tennis Played?

This is, perhaps, one of the most frequently asked questions. For those of us who have just recently discovered the world of wheelchair tennis, it can be difficult to understand initially.

As the name describes itself, wheelchair tennis is a branch of tennis that specifically caters to players who are physically disabled. It has been recognized by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and is equally competitive. To be able to play wheelchair tennis, potential athletes must first show proof of their disability through fulfilling certain criteria.

Players who are eligible to take part in the game are seen to be playing in a wheelchair. This is, in fact, a requirement for all competitors for the sake of maintaining fairness in the game. Wheelchair Tennis rules indicate how all players should use wheelchairs to move around the court.

What Are the Rules of Wheelchair Tennis?

Seeing it for the first time may be confusing for us, but wheelchair tennis is played similarly to its regular version. The rules are, more or less the same. The player who wins the greatest number of sets is the victor.

By default, there are three sets to be played between players. To be able to win a set, the players are required to score points by prompting their opponents to play invalid strokes or miss out on the tennis ball altogether. In case both players are tied between the number of sets won, there will be a tie-breaker with only one winner coming out on top.

This unique form of tennis also has its competitions throughout the year that take place in different regions. There are about six tournaments that are set up in a calendar year. This includes singles & doubles for both men and women. Alternatively, the quad category also has its separate competitions that include singles & doubles tournaments.

Open Division vs. Quad Division

Wheelchair tennis is further divided into two categories based on the type of disabilities players suffer from.

The Open division is for players who suffer from a permanent disability that has caused them to lose function in either one or both legs. However, players under this category are to have a working upper body system. In other words, the open class is for players whose lower limbs have been impaired or suffer from a disability in the legs.

The Quad class mainly restricts its participants by including those who suffer from additional disabilities apart from the legs. To discuss in more detail, a competing athlete must be verified to have a disability in at least three or more limbs. This is not limited to the lower body. Rather, the Quad division also accommodates players who have difficulty or are unable to move their tennis racquet in an appropriate manner.

Are Wheelchair Tennis Rules Different?

For the most part, the rules tend to be the same for both versions of tennis. However, there are minor differences when it comes to gameplay. All of these differences have been certified by the ITF and are implemented for the convenience of disabled players.

Let’s take a look at these differences and determine how they can impact an average player’s gameplay and performance throughout a match.

1. Sitting On A Wheelchair

This is, perhaps, the most notable difference to anyone who watches the game for the first time. As most of us are already aware, this type of format makes it necessary for all athletes to be sitting in a wheelchair. Players are required to move around the court on their wheelchairs. As a matter of fact, wheelchairs are considered to be a part of the player’s entire body.

Moving the wheelchair can seemingly appear to be quite tricky for us. Players are required to apply force on the wheels in order to make the wheelchair move. The reason why this is relatively difficult is that players also use their hands to move the racquet. So, ultimately, wheelchair athletes need to focus hard to be able to move the wheelchair and be able to hit the ball on time. If they are unable to maintain this balance, then the chances of them winning a game may as well become next to none.

2. Tennis Ball Bounce

Tennis Balls Stacked in Wheelchair Rims

Although the court size is the same as the regular version, wheelchair tennis has a particular rule about how many times the ball can bounce. According to the ITF’s official guidelines, a tennis ball is allowed to bounce twice before it can count as a point for either side. Meaning, players are allowed to strike the ball after the second bounce, as long as it lands within the court boundaries.

The reason why this rule is so essential is because of how wheelchair tennis players move. The players, in this format of the game, take slightly longer to move around and turn because they have to cater to their wheelchairs. For example, a player reaching for the ball would first have to apply force to turn their wheelchairs around and then drag it towards the ball. This process can cause a slight delay in the timing, affecting the performances of disabled athletes.

Due to this reason, the ITF allowed them to make use of additional time by increasing the number of bounces for the tennis ball.

3. Holding Tennis Ball

Typically, tennis players usually like to store a couple of balls in their pockets for convenience. It saves time and the effort to look for a new ball after each round. For wheelchair tennis players, however, this is a difficult process considering how they’re not able to stand at all throughout the match. So, to address the question as to where they store the tennis balls, the answer is simple: on the wheels of their wheelchair!

The rims of the wheelchair are specially designed to hold in the tennis balls. Depending upon the design, each rim can hold up to a dozen tennis balls at one time! This is a wonderful quality considering how it allows players to easily access them at any point in time. It not only saves time but also ensures that the tennis balls stay intact.

4. Tennis Racquet

Tennis racquets are usually the same for all formats of the game. They are only regulated on certain conditions, that too in the quad division. Since athletes in the quad division may be dealing with amputated arms or disability in the upper portions of their bodies, the ITF allows them to use racquets that are longer in size. The referee even provides extra time for athletes to set up their equipment in such cases.

Additionally, the ITF has also allowed players to tape their racquets to their hands. If a player does not have functioning movement in their hands, they are given the leverage to tape their racquets to be able to control it directly.

5. The Serve

The service can be a little complicated for beginners to understand. Amongst all the other rules defined, the service ball is the most unique. There are two main rules that players must follow in wheelchair tennis.

The first rule is that all players are allowed one push of the wheelchair before they smash the ball. The whole process goes as follows. The player needs to hold the ball and maintain the wheelchair in a single position, without movement. As the player is about to serve the ball, they are allowed a single push for the purpose of gaining momentum in their strike.

The second rule is that tennis is allowed to hit the area outside of the court after the service. As in, the opponent is required to strike back if the tennis ball lands outside the court after the service.

An important restriction, in this regard, is that players are not allowed to touch the wheels during the serve. If they are found guilty of this action, the opponent will be given the point.

Penalties in Wheelchair Tennis

Penalties in this format of the game are quite rare. Unless the players end up doing something detrimental to the match, it is unlikely that they get penalized for it. Regardless, there are a few rules that need to be followed by players and coaches.

Getting The Wheelchair Tennis Equipment Ready

Players are given a total of 15 minutes to get all of their equipment ready. After the deadline has passed, the referee has the authority to penalize a player by signaling a default.

Moving The Wheelchair With The Feet

This is strictly prohibited as described by ITF guidelines. Players who are caught trying to move their wheelchairs with their feet will lose a point. However, this applies to only those who are able to move their wheelchairs with their hands but deliberately refuse to do so.

The ITF has specified how players, who are unable to use their hands, can use one foot to maneuver the wheelchair. The players are required to verify their condition before the match to be given permission.

Repairing Tennis Equipment

In case a player’s wheelchair may break down, they will be given a total of 20 minutes to attempt and repair the equipment. In case they are unable to do so, the chair umpire or referee has the authority to suspend play.

What Are The Wheelchair Specifications for Tennis?

Sports wheelchairs come in different shapes and sizes. In terms of specifications, they can greatly vary to meet the specifications. There are essentially two types of tennis wheelchairs that are available in the market.

The first type of wheelchair is the kind that is fixed. Meaning, the wheelchair will have specifications that are designed to meet the exact requirements based on a person’s size and comfort. Fixed sports wheelchairs do not facilitate customization as they are practically built for a person with particular needs. Such a type of wheelchair is usually equipped by professional athletes. In many cases, the athletes provide wheelchair dimensions and special adjustments that are suited to their needs.

The other type of wheelchair is customizable in the sense that its usage is flexible. Customizable wheelchairs are recommended for young athletes who are still in the process of growing. The customizable feature allows seating and comfort levels to be adjusted according to the ever-changing needs of a growing body. Even the chairs, in customizable wheelchairs, are able to be adjusted to cater to the athlete’s body shape which may change over time.

Fixed vs. Customizable Wheelchairs: Which One is Better?

Each type of wheelchair holds is its own set of benefits and problems. A wheelchair has several components such as the frame, seat, bucket, seat height, backrest, footplate, strapping, and wheels. Each component is affected depending upon the player’s choice. To discuss in more detail, we’ll be looking at each component individually to determine its pros and cons.

The Frame

The frame is sort of like the base structure which holds the wheelchair together. It is connected to all other components, making it the most important overall feature. Players make use of the frame to set up the direction of the wheelchair.

In customizable wheelchairs, the frame can be adjusted for it to be used by a number of players. The structure itself can also be folded which makes it easier to pack and store. Whereas, the problem with a resizable frame is that it tends to be heavier which can, in turn, affect a player’s movement speed on it. Being heavier means that it would require a greater amount of force to be able to move. Even if it does move, the acceleration will be slower, thereby increasing the risk of the player not being able to reach the ball on time.

A fixed frame has the benefit of being lighter in mass. The materials used to create a fixed frame are also stronger which makes them more durable in the long run. The problem, however, is its cost. Fixed frames are more expensive to repair and maintain compared to their customizable version. This only makes them suitable for veterans rather than young tennis stars whose shape and size may render the frame to become useless with time.

The Seat

Also known as the bucket, the seat is what allows the athlete to balance. A major portion of a player’s success depends on how well they’re able to stabilize their movements. To be able to do that, it is important to have a seat with the right kind of angle and escalation.

The first angle is the one that is inclined above. Basically, the seat is escalated and the player is slightly positioned towards the sky. This allows greater stability and is more suited to players with minimal core functioning. As in, players who suffer from a spinal injury are more likely to adapt to this kind of angle as it allows more flexibility with reference to accuracy.

On the contrary, the declined seating allows the player to shift their weight towards the center of the ground. This is a great feature if the player wants to focus on movement and mobility on the whole. Facing towards the ground means that the player is likely to have more control over their movements. This type of setting supports athletes that have an amputation or have a relatively greater core functioning.

Seat Height

This one is generally straightforward. The height of the seat has a lot to do with a player’s ability to view the court and affect their reach, balance, and power.

A seat with a greater height poses the possibility of providing players with that extra reach and power. If we think about it, the greater the reach, the more power will the player be able to gather before smashing the ball. At the same time, the extra height will allow them to view the court boundaries at a better angle. Consequently, they will be able to position themselves better and try to play shots that outwit their opponent. The problem with this type of positioning is that the increased height reduces the balance.

A lower seat positioning may seem like a disadvantage but it has its own set of pros. Since the center of gravity is low, players will be able to balance themselves better and respond to any incoming quick shots. The lower seat compensates for its height and power by excelling at balance and stability. Thus, the option to choose from the two ultimately depends upon the player’s strategy and approach towards the game.

The Backrest

The backrest, in wheelchair tennis, is what helps to maintain a player’s stamina. It’s a point of comfort that allows the player to gather up their energy and imply it accordingly. Since tennis, on a whole, is all about endurance, the backrest plays a key role when it comes to determining the winner.

A high backrest naturally allows players to sit at a position where they are able to utilize stamina. They can rest their backs and still be able to move with more control till the end of the match. However, with great stamina, comes reduced mobility. Meaning, the player will have to compromise on power and rely on their strategic skills to win the game.

In contradiction to its counterpart, a low backrest tends to support players who heavily rely on serves and power shots to win games. It’s the opposite because players will become prone to losing their stamina more quickly. But if they can do enough damage while it lasts, their chances of winning will become inevitable.

Footplate

The footplate can be seen at the bottom of the wheelchair. It’s the flat surface where an athlete’s feet are placed. There are two strategic styles where the footplate is set that support a variety of aspects.

A footplate is placed at the front of the wheelchair for stability and balance. The positioning of the knees allowing better handling of the wheelchair. At the same time, however, mobility is compromised alongside rotation speed. Rotating the wheelchair gives that extra handling edge and can even turn out to be the difference at the end of the game.

Footplates that are attached under the body are a little less comforting. Comparatively speaking, placing the feet under the wheelchair makes it easy to maneuver and also provides greater mobility. It is suited to players who are experienced and have the ability to maintain concentration and balance during the game.

Wheel Size

Would you rather prioritize speed over control? Or would you strategize your win through turning and movement? The only way to do either of those is through selecting the right type of wheels.

The 24 & 25-inch wheels are relatively thinner but offer greater acceleration and momentum. The thin rubber generates a greater turn ratio, enabling players to react quickly to unexpected shots or smashes. However, as quick as the acceleration seemingly is, the tires limit the speed of the wheelchair. At the same time, the increased friction would have to force players to exert additional power and strength into rolling the wheels.

The 26 & 27-inch wheels are evidently thicker which makes them easier to apply force to. At the same time, they may not be able to make sudden turns as quickly as they would like because of the additional mass.

There’s no such thing as the perfect-sized wheels. The optimum selection ultimately depends upon the player’s own personal preference as well as some external factors as well such as the court type. As a result, it is hard to distinguish what type of tires would generate a greater benefit to a player.

How Much Do Wheelchair Tennis Players Get Paid?

As mentioned earlier, wheelchair tennis has its own professional tours and tournaments. Players who take part in these competitions are granted match fees along with prize money if they are able to take home the trophy. The UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour has over 160 tournaments that take place in 40 different countries.

According to official statements, the tour offers approximately USD 3million prize money for the winner. This, combined with a player’s regular match fees makes wheelchair tennis a pretty hefty job that’s worth applying to!

Who Can Play Wheelchair Tennis?

This version of the game accepts limited participants. Since this format accommodates only players who live with certain disabilities, the acceptance rate can be quite low. Anyone who intends to participate needs to verify their conditions through medical reports and recommendations.

According to the ITF guidelines, a panel of approved selections will observe a player’s movements to classify whether they are eligible to take part in competitions. They will also be examining medical reports along with a review of the player’s physical condition to determine whether they fit in the Open or Quad class.

How Fast Do Wheelchair Tennis Players Serve?

Professional players have often been measured to be serving at over 100 miles per hour.

Does This Format Feature Mixed Competitions?

Yes! As a matter of fact, there is a separate division for mixed competition featured in the Paralympics as well!

What is The Highest Prize in Wheelchair Tennis?

The UNIQLO Tour offers the highest prize of USD 3 million for the winner.

Who Is The Most Famous Player in Wheelchair Tennis?

Shingo Kunieda is often regarded as the most influential player for the men’s division. Whereas, Ether Vergeer stands at the top of the women’s division, having won over 48 Grand Slam tournaments.

Where and When Was Wheelchair Tennis Invented?

This format was invented in 1976 after Brad Parks, a young American tennis prodigy, became paralyzed during a skiing accident.

Wheelchair Tennis For Kids: An Opportunity To Start Young!

Make Sure To Consider Your Child’s Own Interest!

With the recent rise in popularity, there have been various inaugurations of platforms that promote children with disabilities. According to reports, the USTA funded 17 programs in 2017 alone for the promotion of wheelchair tennis amongst kids. Furthermore, there are efforts being made to improve existing junior programs and developing new ones to increase the overall intake of the next generation of wheelchair tennis stars.

All of these apprenticeships offer children to start fresh. Not only will they be introduced to the basics of teens, but will be able to actively take part in friendly matches to polish their skills and increase their chances of becoming the next big thing in tennis!

Concluding Remarks: The Future Looks Good!

Wheelchair tennis has become one of the major sporting events. From its humble beginnings in the 1980s to rocking the stage in the 2020 Paralympics, it’s become clear to predict how wheelchair tennis will continue to grow. With more opportunities to come, it’s important to recognize its importance and acknowledge its presence in an evergrowing competitive sports world.

Unarguably, the most distinguished aspect of wheelchair tennis is that it has given an opportunity to players with special needs. For those who have had dreams to take part in competitive environments, the game of tennis has served to become a platform that gives them a chance to become the hero they’ve idolized throughout their lifetimes.

For more details on wheelchair tennis or the 2020 Paralympics, make sure to visit our website!


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