James Moore: How I became a wheelchair tennis ace for the day

 

The ball is coming straight at me at nasty speed as my wheels glide towards the edge of the court. 

I’m supposed to be learning forehand but I can’t help it, it’s time to give my coach David Vellala a surprise.

My backhand was always my best shot when I was able to tear around University College London’s squash courts in a bi-weekly battle with BBC producer Tony Bonsignore.

Whaddya know, it works just as well for tennis. The ball zings across the court, a couple of inches above the net. There’s no way even David’s sprinter’s legs are going to reach it.

“Hey, I didn’t teach you that,” he says. “You trying to win or something?”

Yes, that’s right, he’s on his feet playing to able bodied rules. I’m in a sports wheelchair playing wheelchair rules. Differences? The wheelchair player is allowed two bounces before having to return a shot, one of which has to be within the confines of the court. That’s about it.

Tennis allows the wheelchair bound and able bodied to compete on more or less equal terms without the able bodied player needing to take to wheels.

David approaches the subject of “inclusion” for the disabled with a preacher’s zeal and he’s agreed to teach me the wheelchair version.

He knows both having been temporarily incapacitated by a stroke at the age of 39 and spends part of our session on wheels part on his feet. A hyper-energetic athlete, therapist, osteopath, advocate, he’s also a natural coach. And you know what, tennis seems to work as a mixed sport.

It still takes a bit of getting used to for a former able-bodied squash player and, I’d say, requires a degree more concentration in a chair than on legs. You need to build up speed before letting the chair go and gliding into the shot. That takes quite a bit of judgement and David repeatedly tells me not to use that backhand because I need to get the forehand right. It’s not just because of that zinger.

The legendary Pete "Quadfather" Norfolk, who plays with his racket taped to his hand after an operation to literally cut his spine in half and won a Paralypic doubles silver at 51, doesn’t have much to worry about from me. I’m finding it quite challenging.

Enter David again. “Shout ‘hit’ when you’re going to, just try it,” he counsels. At first I feel a little self conscious. None of the surrounding players at these rather nice courts on Hackney Downs are shouting "hit". Strangely, though, it seems to work. By shouting hit, I actually start to land racquet on ball on my forehand as well as my backhand.

Gratifyingly, serving proves easier to get the hang of (after a few false starts). I have to flick the ball into the air the my left hard because my left arm, having been smashed to bits, doesn’t appreciate being raised high into the air to throw the ball up in a classic service motion. It works well enough.

By the end of the session we manage a passable rally and I’m getting into a grove, enjoying myself.

I’d still say wheelchair basketball is my favourite of the two wheelchair sports I’ve tried out during the Paralympics. But wheelchair tennis certainly has something going for it. And I’m not just talking about Esther Vergeer, the Dutch wheelchair superstar with the model’s looks and the title of most dominant sportswoman on the planet after a seven-year unbeaten run.

Time to let her loose in a singles tournament at Wimbledon please, All England Club. Time for a few more facilities like the one at Hackney where they have sports wheelchairs you can borrow. The biggest challenge for many wheelchair users, as I can testify, is getting out of the house.

The tennis court is a breeze once you’ve managed that.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
News
An Apple iPhone 6 stands on display at the Apple Store
businessRegulators give iPhone 6 and 6 Plus the green light
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Britain's internet habits have been revealed in a new survey
tech
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style