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Monica Smith plays against Yvette Preiestly during Visually Impaired Tennis National Finals 2022 match at Wrexham Tennis Centre on November 20, 2022 in Wrexham, Wales.
Diversity and inclusion

GB’s disability teams celebrate global success in 2023

• 3 MINUTE READ

The end of the 2023 season is nigh, and as we join in the celebration of this year’s International Day of Disabled Persons (IDDP), we take a trip down memory lane to reminisce over what has been a blockbuster year for Great Britain’s disability athletes, who once again have won a highly impressive haul of team and individual titles over the last 12 months.

From GB’s Visually Impaired squad competing at the IBSA World Games for the first time in history to nine top-flight stars taking home gold in the most prestigious elite sports events for athletes with an intellectual impairment, this season will be one for the books.  

Australian Open kick starts tremendous year for deaf and learning disability players 

As early as January this year, new opportunities and traditions emerged with the Australian Open leading the movement in opening Grand Slams to more disabled people, inspiring the beginning of their All Abilities tournament for people with intellectual impairments (PwII) and those whom are deaf or hard of hearing (DHoH).

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Having received the opportunity to contend on the global stage Melbourne Park has to offer, Britain’s Anna McBride rose to the occasion to earn a brace of titles in the Women’s PwII Singles and Doubles event, winning all six of her encounters.

The 20-year-old may have been Great Britain's first gold medallist of the season, but she wasn’t the sole GB representative to realise podium success. Fabrice Higgins and Oliver Beadle also medalled in the Men’s PwII Singles and Doubles draws respectively, while the four-time deaf National champion, Phoebe Suthers, secured silver in the DHoH Women’s Singles and Doubles event. 

Just seven months later, Suthers would continue to be on the crest of a wave in Hersonisos, Crete where she and Lewis Fletcher, who remains the undefeated National doubles champion since 2012, won a second silver medal at the World Deaf Tennis Championships. The pair are well-accustomed to the world stage, having also finished runner-up at the Championships four years before in Antalya, Turkey.

Great Britain’s deaf tennis team weren’t alone in journeying overseas to fly the flag, however, as seven British players travelled across the Channel to Vichy, France during the summer months to compete at the Virtus Global Games, the elite sports event for athletes with an intellectual impairment. 

Great Britain’s seven-player squad took home eight medals, making them the most decorated tennis team in the tournament.

After her success in Melbourne, McBride returned to international action to add a further two gold medals and one silver to her season’s tally. Also joining her on the podium was a two-time British champion, Dominic Iannotti, as they linked up to win gold in the ii1 Mixed Doubles, and Lily Mills who accompanied her to win silver in the Women’s ii1 Team Event. 

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Iannotti also banked a hat-trick of titles after teaming up with former triple World Champion, Fabrice Higgins, to dominate in the Men’s ii1 Doubles and Team Event. The pair also earned success individually, with Higgins finishing as silver medallist and Iannotti finishing as bronze medallist in singles. 

Oliver Beadle and Luke Turnbull also made a memorable maiden appearance after winning the bronze medal in the Men’s ii1 Doubles to mark GB’s second of the tournament.

After thriving in Vichy, a matter of weeks later Great Britain was to compete among nations at the Special Olympics World Games, for athletes with intellectual disabilities including autism, Down’s Syndrome and other learning disabilities.  

Led by Head Coach Paul Singleton, GB’s quartet expanded their country’s illustrious record in the competition, collectively taking home two gold and two bronze medals. 

Matthew Brough revelled in a memorable maiden appearance after topping the Men’s Singles Level 6 SMO2 draw before winning bronze in the Mixed Doubles alongside fellow York Disability Tennis Network teammate, Emily Clarke.

Meanwhile, the team’s most experienced member, Mills, made a explosive return to the international stage to claim bronze in the Women’s Singles Level 6 event before soon adding more silverware to the list following her performance with debutant Adam Brownsword. The prolific duo dominated in the Level 6 Mixed Doubles event to earn Great Britain’s second gold medal of the tournament and fourth overall.

Great Britain’s visually impaired team deliver 11 medals at historic IBSA World Games 

The accolades continued to rush in for the Brits as an army of talent was selected for the IBSA World Games in Birmingham, the pinnacle of all international competitions for athletes with a visual impairment outside the Paralympic Games.

This year marked the first time that tennis was included among the 10 sports contested at the games, and upon their debut, the hosts put on an impressive display to pocket 11 medals in the 14 events that took place across the week.

The IBTA World Championships titleholder, Amanda Large, who this season has secured 31 wins in 35 matches at regional level, proved her champion’s mindset after winning the first of Britain’s two gold medals in the B2 Women’s Singles.

B1 athlete, Monica Smith, lay claim to the second after collaborating with the recently named world No.1 men’s B1 tennis player, Pakistan’s Naqi Rizvi, to reign supreme in the doubles, with British-based Rizvi opting to represent his native Pakistan in Birmingham. Together, the duo has an impressive record in LTA regional and national competition. 

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In all draws from B1-B4, there were a further five silver medals (Smith, Neil Bamford, Andrea Logan, Ivan Rodriguez-Deb, Large and Rosie Pybus) and four bronze (Sarah Fortescue, Pybus, Gavin Griffiths and Yvette Priestley, Bamford and Rodriguez-Deb) earned by the Great Britain tennis team across singles and doubles. 

World Team Cup and Grand Slam titles for Britain’s wheelchair stars

Great Britain’s wheelchair tennis players added to the international success in their own team event, the World Team Cup, winning both the men’s and junior titles in the same year for the first time.

Alfie Hewett, Gordon Reid and Ben Bartam helped Great Britain lift the men’s trophy for the third time since 2015 after beating defending champions the Netherlands in their final, while Joshua Johns, Ruben Harris and Oliver Cox combined to lift the junior title – again Great Britain’s third victory in the event.

Elsewhere, Hewett continued to build on his towering success, capturing a personal best seven singles titles – including two Grand Slams at the Australian Open and US Open - and 10 doubles titles to conclude the year as world No.1 in both the singles and doubles for the first time, while Hewett and Reid end the year having re-established themselves as the world’s top men’s doubles partnership.

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Hewett’s long-serving partnership with Reid also saw them unlock new career highs, as they successfully earnt their 18th Grand Slam victory together, adding their fifth Wimbledon title, and fourth French Open and Australian Open trophies into the mix. Andy Lapthorne, who is supported by the LTA’s Elite Wheelchair Programme alongside Hewett and Reid, added to the Grand Slam success after making a victorious tournament debut with South Africa’s Donald Ramphadi at Roland Garros.

As a result of their unrivalled success, Hewett and Reid both received an OBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List, which saw Lucy Shuker also honoured with the British Empire Medal (BEM)..

After 20 years on tour Shuker ended her 2023 campaign with one singles and four doubles titles, all which contributes to a total of 81 international titles currently won by British players across singles and doubles competition this year.

It has indeed been another memorable year for the LTA’s disability tennis programmes and Great Britain remains among the leading nations for disability tennis across the world.  

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