National visually impaired tennis champions crowned in Wrexham
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After another stellar year for the sport, last month saw the winners crowned at the 2019 LTA National Visually Impaired Tennis Championships in Wrexham.
The event attracted a record number of players, with the field including medalists from the successful Great Britain team who competed at this year’s International Blind Tennis Tournament in Benidorm.
With ambitions of becoming a Paralympic sport in the future, visually impaired tennis is an adapted from the full court version of tennis and uses a smaller court marked out with lower nets and tactile lines. It uses an audible ball so players can hear it bounce – depending on a player’s degree of sight loss they may have between one and three bounces of the ball before returning it back to their opponent.
A record entry of 67 players competed for national titles across four sight categories, B1 to B4/B5 – with B1 players having the greatest degree of sight loss.
In the B1 category, Hertfordshire’s Monica Smith claimed her first national title, topping her group before defeating Yvette Priestley in the final. In the men’s event, Cambridgeshire’s Roy Turnham regained the title he won in 2017 after putting in a series of consistently impressive performances.
Despite the ever increasing standard of competition, both the B2 and B3 categories saw repeat winners from 2018. World gold medalist Amanda Large, was imperious in claiming the B2 women’s crown, with the Manchester player not losing a single game throughout the tournament. The men’s B2 title went once again to Co. Armagh’s Brian Lenehan, coming through a hard fought final to defeat Lancashire’s Neil Balmforth 4-2, 5-4(3).
Janette Reynolds added a sixth national title to her growing collection in the B3 women’s event, with the Carshalton player not dropping a set, while Kingston’s Chris Blake to the men’s B3 trophy after coming from a set down to prevail with a tight 2-4, 4-2, 1-0(6) win over Durham & Cleveland’s Steve Trewick.
There was however North East success in the B4/5 category, with County Durham’s Samantha Murray adding the women’s title to the one she won last year. A new name now appears on the men’s B4/5 roll of honour – Hertfordshire junior Ivan Rodriguez-Deb, who started playing the sport after taking part in an LTA junior festival for visually impaired people, topped his group before winning the final in straight sets. The success was Rodriguez-Deb’s first national title, and the first time a junior has won a senior title at the event.
In the doubles events, Large once again teamed up with Minerva Ainsworth to retain the women’s title, with Blake and Rodriguez-Deb winning the men’s title. This year’s national B1 doubles title was claimed by Durham & Cleveland duo Anthony Harrison and Sidney Tambin.
The tournament received tremendous support from a team of volunteers who were on hand to assist all the players competing throughout the weekend.
'An adaptable and welcoming sport'
Kirsty Thomson, LTA Tournament Director, said: “The Visually Impaired National Championships is always a highlight of our competition calendar. This year was once again an amazing event with some outstanding performances across all the categories.
“Tennis is an adaptable and welcoming sport that can be played by anyone, with record numbers of disabled people now picking up a racket and enjoying playing. Visually impaired tennis is now one of the fastest growing forms of disability sport and, with a strong social element, some fantastic regional and national competitions and a growing international profile it is really thriving at the moment. For anyone considering giving it a go I’d really encourage you to get in touch with the LTA and find your nearest club”.
Visually impaired tennis is part of the LTA’s Open Court programme, one of the biggest disability-specific sports development programmes in the country.
It supports over 500 venues across Britain to offer disability tennis sessions to their local community. To find out how to start playing click here.
Wrexham Tennis Centre acted as the host venue for the 2019 event. The centre is part of the network of community indoor tennis centres across the country supported by the LTA, providing facilities for the local north east Wales community to get active. This was the first time a national visually impaired tennis event had been staged at the venue, but it has already hosted international wheelchair tennis and national junior competitions this year.
2019 National VI Tennis Champions
- B1 – Monica Smith (Hertfordshire)
- B2 – Amanda Large (Lancashire)
- B3 - Janette Reynolds (Surrey)
- B4/5 – Samantha Murray (Durham & Cleveland)
- B1 – Roy Turnham (Cambridgeshire)
- B2 – Brian Lenehan (Northern Ireland)
- B3 – Chris Blake (Surrey)
- B4/5 – Ivan Rodriguez-Deb (Hertfordshire)
- Women – Minerva Ainsworth (Middlesex) & Amanda Large
- Men – Chris Blake & Ivan Rodriguez-Deb
- B1 – Anthony Harrison & Sidney Tambin (Durham & Cleveland)
Full results from the tournament are available online.
QUICK FACTS: Visually Impaired Tennis
- One of the fastest growing disability sports
- Ambitions for it to become a future Paralympic sport
- Adapted from the full court version of tennis to a smaller court, marked out with lower nets and tactile lines
- Uses an audible ball so players can hear it bounce
- Players compete in different categories, with B1 having the greatest degree of sight loss
- Depending on a player’s category they are allowed between one and three bounces of the ball