Four Champions: Disability Tennis & Me
• 3 MINUTE READ
To coincide with today’s UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities, we’re shining a spotlight on disability tennis, and specifically four of the winners from our recent series of national championships for deaf, wheelchair, learning disability and visually impaired tennis - Esah, Martha, Oliver and Tracy.
Over the past two years, many disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic with significantly reduced activity levels and opportunities to be active, so last month’s series of LTA National Championships were a celebration of disability tennis and provided an opportunity for players to get back to being active and competing.
Here, we speak to the quartet of champions for views on how they got involved in disability tennis and what the sport has done for them. While not everyone can win national titles, anyone can get on court and have fun no matter what their ability or disability – we hope the journeys and experiences described below can help inspire and encourage even more disabled people to return to court and for new players to give tennis a try.
Esah Hayat (Middelsex) - National Deaf Tennis Champion
At the start of November Esah Hayat made it four LTA National Deaf Tennis Championships singles titles in six years with victory at the National Tennis Centre.
The 19-year-old Cambridge University student from East Finchley, who is an established part of the LTA’s GB national deaf tennis squad and a previous World Junior Deaf Tennis Champion, didn’t take an immediate liking to the sport.
“I was first introduced to the game at around six-years-old as my dad and my brother both played. However, I didn’t like it and just wanted to play football. I remember after my first session saying to my Dad ‘this is a stupid game! All you do is run around after a ball and hit it!’ For a while I didn’t play tennis. However, I used to watch my brother Yousuf play and helped collect the balls and hit them against the wall. When I was about nine-and-a-half I realised I couldn’t play football as well as I wanted to with my hearing aid and cochlear implant so I tried tennis again.”
After progressing and playing regularly at the Westway Sport Centre as part of their mainstream programme, his dad received an email from the North London Deaf Children’s Society advertising the National Deaf Tennis Championships, and suggested he enter.
“Deaf tennis has given me the chance to be a part of a worldwide community of tennis players who are all in the same boat. It can be very easy to get used to being the only deaf person in the room in day-to-day life, so playing deaf tennis tournaments has been a great way for me to be a part of the deaf community again, while playing the sport we all enjoy.
“I have made many friends around the world from tennis, both at tournaments and at my tennis clubs. Playing on the tennis team has provided a whole new branch of my life at university too, and on the whole, has given me a wide range of experiences that I would never have had otherwise.”
Martha Harris (Nottinghamshire) – Wheelchair Tennis National Champion
Martha Harris, along with Andrew Penney, became the first pair of teenagers to win both the men’s and women’s singles titles at the year-end LTA Wheelchair Tennis National Finals, at the Shrewsbury Club last week.
Seventeen-year-old Harris, who left Shrewsbury with four trophies, used to go and watch the professional players compete at the annual British Open at Nottingham in her younger years and it was during the British Open in 2015 that she had her introduction to playing at a come and try session – now she is supported by the LTA’s Wheelchair Tennis National Age Group Programme designed to help high potential wheelchair players progress towards future international success.
“I started at a Nottingham ‘come and try’ session, really enjoyed it and decided to continue.
“I never really played much sport before tennis, I was never really involved, but once I found the sport, I was so much more active, I play so much more, and met so many amazing people and made so many great friends. Being able to go to all these competitions, and even having the opportunity to go abroad to play, is really exciting for me.
“I really love the challenge tennis presents and to be able to keep training and working hard and having a goal to work towards, keeps me motivated.”
Oliver Beadle (Essex) – Learning Disability Tennis National Champion
Oliver Beadle won the Yellow Ball Division 1 singles and doubles titles at the LTA Learning Disability National Championships in Sunderland last month.
Beadle, who made his debut at the Virtus Global Games as part of the GB team in 2019, was one of 53 players taking part in the north-east. He first started playing tennis with his brothers before going on to take part in learning disability tennis sessions, and credits the sport he took up 10 years ago with changing his life.
“Tennis has allowed me to meet a great group of tennis players, friends and specialist disability coaches and also to be able to compete for Great Britain. I take part in intensive training weekends via the LTA and compete all around the UK and the world.
“I’ve so far competed in Los Angeles and Brisbane and those experiences and being part of the British team have helped me a lot both on and off the court.
“I enjoy playing and trying to win! I really like the training weekends and competitions and meeting up with the friends I’ve made through LD tennis. I am so proud at being able to play for Great Britain, it is amazing to put on a GB shirt and travel away and be part of a team.”
Tracy Compton (Surrey) – Visually Impaired Tennis National Champion
Tracy Compton competed at the LTA Visually Impaired Nationals in Wrexham and was one of 40 players from across the country competing in North Wales. Compton and her doubles partner Roy Turnham were crowned B1 Doubles champions, which she describes as a ‘dream come true’.
Tracy talks about how VI tennis has made the impossible possible for the eye and blind persons to be able to participate in tennis and make it inclusive.
“VI tennis has been great for growing my confidence on and off court Encouraging me to participate in regional and national tournaments across the country, boosting my courage and confidence to restart travelling on public transport after the isolation of the pandemic has been significant.”
Tracey was initially an unwilling participant in the sport as she mentions. “A bad experience at senior school left me feeling inadequate and isolated in playing tennis with my friends due to my disability of being visually impaired. I was reluctant at first to participate in the taster sessions being delivered at my local tennis venue, Sutton sports centre tennis Academy.
“However, due to the close proximity of the venue and the well delivered session for VI tennis, I began to enjoy tennis again and this quickly became an addictive sport for me and now I just love playing VI tennis and it encourages me to want to do better.
“Meeting and making new friends on an off the tennis court has been a social enterprise and that empowers me to encourage other VI ones to take part in new taster sessions across the country.”
Get Involved in Disability Tennis
Tennis really is a sport for all.
You might think it is not for you, but it can be adapted for any level of ability, as well as for players with different disabilities. We can supply all the equipment and aids you need – we’ve got sports wheelchairs if you have a physical disability, and tennis balls that make a noise when they bounce if you’re visually impaired. There’s nothing stopping you from giving it a go and having just as much fun playing the game as everyone else.
Great Britain is one of the leading nations in the world for disability tennis, and we’re creating more opportunities for people from all backgrounds across Britain to learn how to play tennis.
Funded by Sport England and the LTA, the Open Court Programme supports over 400 venues across Britain to deliver tennis for disabled people and those with long term health conditions.
Since its launch following the London 2012 Paralympic Games, it has become one of the largest programmes of its kind across any sport. By supporting venues to run impairment-specific sessions and our tennis venues and workforce to integrate disabled people in non-disabled activity, the Open Court programme has helped a record number of disabled people pick up a racket and enjoy the benefits of being active through tennis.
We also support and run local, regional and national disability tennis competitions for any and all abilities, and for the very best players there are opportunities to play for Great Britain too!
If you have been inspired by the players above and want to get involved in disability tennis, please click here to find out more about it and how you can get started.