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.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil