Throughout the past few years Great British tennis has seen a large increase in the quality of players coming through the system and also the success. With Andy Murray’s recent grand slam victories at the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013 alongside Gold and Silver medals at the London Olympics, there has been a real buzz across the country about the future of British tennis. However, one thing that has been overlooked by the majority of the country is the huge success of disability tennis and the Tennis Foundation, dominating their sport over the past year.
With the Scot leading the way for British tennis with the leaps and bounds that he has made in previous years, he has inspired many young players such as Kyle Edmund and Heather Watson to break through into the world's elite.
Masters appearances and four Grand Slam appearances for Edmund have helped to boost his confidence and aim higher, climbing around 450 places on the men’s world tour rankings to 128 since turning pro in 2012, whilst Watson has achieved a career high ranking of 45, winning in Hobart, Australia, and Rome this year.
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The newest young talent includes 16 year-old Katie Swan who achieved an Australian Open Juniors final appearance in Melbourne in January, however, she fell short, losing to Slovakian Tereza Mihalikova in straight sets. However the strong performances she has put in during the early phases of her career are promising showing signs of progress close to that of Laura Robson or even Andy Murray himself.
With greater progress being made in all aspects of British tennis than there has been in the previous decades it would be difficult to criticise the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) as much as in recent years. Progress, after all, is progress.
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However, it seems that Andy Murray’s days at the top of British tennis are numbered. The Scot turns 28 years-old this year, and even though he is in good form achieving consecutive wins in Rome and Madrid this year, 28 is still considered just short of old age for a tennis player, so it seems that the LTA is on the hunt for a replacement.
To the surprise of many, Britain’s wheelchair tennis players have no doubt outshone our top Brits on the ATP world tour, specifically with the amount of talented young players coming through The Tennis Foundation, with the possibility of one of them being the answer to our calls for a replacement.
In 2014 Great Britain’s wheelchair tennis players won more titles than any other nation, including six grand slams and 80 titles across seven tiers of tournaments and World Team Cup competitions on the ITF (International Tennis Federation) calendar. The majority of this success is mainly due to the work put in by the Tennis Foundation.
From ITF futures events right up to Grand Slams, Britain’s players have demonstrated they are a force to be reckoned with as they aim to be at the top of their games in the run in to the Paralympic Games in Rio next summer. Our top Brits on the wheelchair tennis circuit not only topped the rankings for number of events won, but also won more junior titles than any other country represented on the tour.
The Tennis Foundation works closely alongside the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) and UK Sport and is Great Britain’s leading tennis charity.
“We aim to create a sport which is inclusive and accessible to every kind of community,” said Bethany Shine, Communications assistant for the Tennis Foundation, “we aim to provide opportunities to encourage people to both play and enjoy tennis, as well as to maximise their personal potential through the sport.”
The Tennis Foundation has five main values:
• Integrity – They will be trustworthy, respectful and fair in all what they do.
• Inspiration – They will be passionate, motivated and committed to their roles.
• Approachability – Remaining friendly, open and flexible to all who seek their assistance.
• Excellence – They strive to be world class in their operations and always think innovatively.
• Partnership – They work closely together and build strong external relationships to achieve their aims.
The Tennis Foundation’s National tennis centre is found in Roehampton, London, and is central to all disability access, for players at both participation and performance levels. Although wheelchair tennis is the general form for disability tennis, the Tennis Foundation offers other forms for all to play to their own needs; such as adapted forms for deaf players, players with learning disabilities and visually impaired players.
"Behind each player's success there is a large team of individual coaches, Tennis Foundation colleagues and much wider support staff, as well as the invaluable support our whole programme has from UK Sport through National Lottery funding” said Geraint Richards, the Tennis Foundation's Head of Disability Player Performance.
It is key for the Tennis Foundation that all players receive as much opportunity as possible to achieve their highest potential throughout their respective careers.
There are many names at the top of the lists that call for huge credit for their performances during the previous season, however, the few that stand out are 22 year-old British number one Jordanne Whiley, one of 18 players on the Tennis Foundations performance programme, and Alfie Hewett, aged 18, who was the youngest Briton to achieve a Senior men’s world ranking at the age of 12 years-old.
Jordanne became the first British tennis player, from disability or able-bodied tennis, to complete a calendar year Grand Slam after partnering Japan’s Yui Kamiji to win the women’s doubles at all four Grand Slams.
The calendar Grand Slam is achieved when an individual player or pair achieve victories at all four Grand Slam events within the same year. A feat only achieved by four others: Don Budge, Rod Laver, Maureen Connolly and Stefi Graf.
The British number one said: “It’s been an incredible year for me personally and the whole of British wheelchair tennis.
“I have had an amazing year winning the doubles calendar Grand Slam and a huge thanks to my coaches and support staff, as well as the Tennis Foundation and UK Sport.”
Whiley, the current World number five was, born with Brittle Bone Disease, which is a genetic disease that causes fractures and bone damage throughout childhood, restricting her performance till she discovered the opportunities available in disability sport.
In the earlier days of her career the Briton was one of the most dominant players to compete on a junior tour throughout the past generations reaching the rank of world number one by the time she was 14 years-old, becoming Britain’s youngest ever National women’s singles champion in 2007.
Yet to reach 24 years-old, having already reached a career highest ranking of five on the world tour and achieved 17 singles titles and an astonishing 41 doubles titles and a three-time world tour finals singles and doubles champion, Whiley has shown potential similar to the level of Andy Murray in his earlier days, showing that she is sure to be one to watch in the near future.
Alfie Hewett was diagnosed with Perthes’ Disease, the softening and breakdown of the thigh bone, at 7 years-old. The young Brit has experienced a very successful start to his career, competing mainly on the ITF circuit.
The youngster enjoyed a peak year in 2013 full of celebration where he achieved a career high of 24th on the Senior men’s world rankings and World number one on the Juniors rankings, after leading Great Britain to victory at the 2013 Team World Cup in Turkey. His achievements earned him the AEGON GB tennis junior player of the year award at the British tennis awards at the O2.
Having already won 10 singles and 20 doubles titles, the young Brit is sure to provide fans of wheelchair tennis with a lot of exciting performances throughout the rest of his career.
The Tennis Foundation has been going about its business quietly over the past decade whilst the LTA has soaked all of the criticism that has been circulating around the game. It has almost been non-existent in the eyes of the British public and tennis fans, however, this past season has opened up the eyes of the British public to the exciting possibilities and achievements that could be made by our young, up and coming talent in the coming years.
“It has been an exceptional year for British wheelchair tennis, with many highlights,” Geraint Richards said, “as we go into 2015 I hope that our players continue to inspire with their performances and we can get more and more players playing wheelchair tennis and realising their potential.”
It is not a shock to the country that our wheelchair tennis players are performing so well, looking at the performances of so many of our athletes at the Paralympic Games in London helping Team GB to finish third on the medals table securing a total of 120 medals just three years ago.
It must be true that the Tennis Foundation and the players themselves would have gained some inspiration and motivation to do their country proud over the past three years since the Games.
With the sport beginning to really show off the skill involved and increasing its reputation, it is only a matter of time until it is one of the most elite sports in disability sport and it will remain a sport to keep your eye on in the near future.