Bengaluru: International star of yester years Reeth Abraham unveiled the Tabebuia Open Championship Trophy of the Indian Wheelchair Tennis Tour at the KSLTA Stadium here on Tuesday.
Former Indian athlete pledged her support and called for a sporting lifestyle and encouraged the players before urging the media to create awareness about Wheelchair Tour.
It will be a different kind of tennis at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA) courts here from December 14 to 17. But, the spirit with which the participants will compete for top honours will be a sight to behold, come, watch, enjoy and celebrate the unique talents of a special kind.
The second AITA ranking tournament of 2017 in the Indian Wheelchair Tennis Tour (IWTT) and the third tournament overall will feature a total of 42 players, including six females and 36 male sportspersons, in the 4-day event this week. A total of 21 players from Delhi, Coimbatore, Chennai, Mumbai, Dharwad and other cities will be seen in action. The first tournament of the IWTT was held here last year. This year, the first tournament was held in Chennai. In 2018, IWTThopes to conduct three tournaments.
The tournaments, being held under the aegis of the All-India Tennis Association (AITA) and KSLTA, is an idea born out of the encouragement of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). IWTT is a division of Astha that is working on taking Indian Wheelchair onto the world map in the next three to five years. Astha is a registered NGO that is working to empower the differently abled.
While IWTT's hard work, commitment and passion to promote the unique and different abilities of these players played a role in encouraging them to take up the sport, the Tour itself provides a platform to make their dream a reality. The idea of having this Touris to give an opportunity for differently abled sportspersons to prove that they have the skills, talent and confidence to play sport and excel. More than anything else, the spirit of competition is the same as any tournament, and the hurdles they face to see their name in the draw is in itself an achievement.
The other idea of having a Tour is to join the international mainstream and IWTTis trying to make it a reality in the near future. In many countries abroad, wheelchair tennis is at an advanced level and it is the dream of IWTT to have international tournaments in India. If international tournaments are conducted in India, the local players get the exposure and competency level to take on the best internationally.
However, good equipment can be pretty expensive and participating in the international tours even more expensive. IWTT is hoping to take wheelchair tennis to a higher level so that the dream of every player is fulfilled. Like any other sport, these genial giants need whole-hearted support from sponsors, especially in getting a competitive and modern wheelchair, prices of which may go up from Rs 35,000 for a local tournament to Rs3 to 6 lakhs for an international tournament.
The tournament, hopes to generate more interest among players, officials, sponsors and the general public, including students of colleges and schools. The upcoming tournament carries a total prize money of Rs 2.5 lakh and even the eliminated player will get a portion of prize money, according to AITA rules.
The chief referee for the tournament is Santosh Venkataram and the officials will all be AITA-certified individuals from KSLTA.
Usually, there are two classes in wheelchair tennis: General and Quad. However, only the General class will be played as there are no Quad players in India. Competition will be held in men's singles and doubles and women's singles and doubles, subject to a minimum of three entries. Entries close on December 13. It will be a knockout draw of 32 (men), with the top 24 getting direct entry. There will be a qualification round on December 13 and eight will enter the main draw.
The rules are exactly the same as regular tennis. But, the only change is that the receiver can take the ball on the second bounce during a serve. The first bounce will have to be as per regular tennis rules but the second can be anywhere on the court, even outside.
Last year, local lad Shekhar Veeraswamy won the men's singles and Shekar and Gopinath won the doubles in Bengaluru. In this year's first tournament in Chennai (The Marina Open 2017), Balachandar won the men's singles and Balachandar and Karthik emerged as the doubles champions. Incidentally, Balachandar was the fifth seed but put up a great show to bag a double.
Astha founder Sunil Jain says: "Sports allow anyone to discover new physical abilities, mind power. Sports also is a great equaliser and it can be great medium for social inclusion. Sports can break all the myths around bodily disabilities and that the reason we are committed to introduce sport to as many people with disabilities as possible."
Former Indian hockey captain Jude Felix, who runs an academy for underprivileged children, says: "This is an awesome initiative. The more tournaments, the better for wheelchair tennis. It is exciting to see these differently-abled players compete and I am really excited to be a part of it."
Defending singles and doubles champion Balachandar says: "Wheelchair tennis is a sport that is coming up. It is getting recognition now and we are looking forward to other international events so that we get international ranking," he added.
US Open doubles runner-up, French Open Mixed double winner (2017) and Davis Cupper Rohan Bopanna too chipped in: "The commitment of the team at IWTT is commendable. To develop the sport at the grass root level, it is very important that there are regular competitions like these. These competitions will motivate more people to take up this sport. I hope IWTT gets support from everyone and Indian Wheelchair Tennis gets onto the world map soon."