Ready for Rio: Wheelchair Tennis, 16 facts

By Jillian Clarke | Nov. 18, 2014, 12:59 p.m. (ET)
David Wagner
David Wagner is a three-time Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair tennis. 


Team USA is serving up 16 facts about Paralympic wheelchair tennis. Stay on top of your game with these facts, which will come in handy for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games:

1. Paralympic history
Wheelchair tennis was first demonstrated at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games, and it became an official Paralympic sport at the Barcelona 1992 Games. At the Barcelona Games, men and women from 16 countries competed in four medal events.

2. History of wheelchair tennis
The concept of wheelchair tennis was created in the late 1970s when Brad Parks and wheelchair athlete Jeff Minnenbraker contemplated the idea and began playing the following year. The National Federation of Wheelchair Tennis (NFWT) was then created in 1980.

3. Classifications
Athletes play against other athletes with similar impairments. Wheelchair tennis players must have mobility impairments, which require a wheelchair. Players with a maximum of two impairments play one another in ‘open’ competitions, while players with three or more impairments play one another in quads events.

4. Participation
With participation from wheelchair athletes in more than 100 countries, wheelchair tennis has become one of the fastest growing wheelchair sports. However, at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, only 31 countries competed as opposed to 35 that competed at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.

5. A key difference
While most rules for wheelchair tennis are the same as able-bodied tennis, one difference is that the ball is allowed to bounce twice before a player returns a hit to the other side.

6. Events
Paralympic wheelchair tennis events include men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and quad singles and doubles.

7. Paralympic teams
For Paralympic wheelchair tennis, countries are allowed only four men, four women and three quad players to compete. These athletes, however, can compete in both singles and doubles events.

8. Serving
Serving the ball in wheelchair tennis differs from serving during able-bodied tennis. The server gets one push of his or her wheelchair before hitting the ball, but the server’s wheelchair must not touch or go beyond the boundary line until after the serve. Some quad players, depending on their disability, are allowed have another individual drop the ball for them before serving it.

9. Matches
For Paralympic wheelchair tennis, athletes play in a best-of-three sets format.

10. Courts and equipment
Wheelchair tennis is played on the same court as able-bodied tennis and athletes play with the same types of rackets and balls. The only extra piece of equipment for wheelchair tennis is an athlete’s wheelchair, which must meet certain regulations.

11. Qualifying for Rio
The first chance for athletes to qualify for Rio will be at the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon, South Korea in October. Winners for the men’s and women’s singles at this event will be qualified for Rio.

12. Dynamic duo of Team USA
Wheelchair tennis athletes David Wagner and Nick Taylor have been competing and dominating at the Paralympics since the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. Since the event debuted in 2004, Wagner and Taylor have won gold in the quad doubles event at each Paralympic Games. Both David and Nick have competed in quad singles events with Wagner winning three medals (two silver and a bronze) and Taylor winning a bronze.

13. London 2012
At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, 31 countries participated in six medal events. The Netherlands came out on top of the leader board by winning two gold, two silver and two bronze medals. The U.S. came in second after winning one gold, one silver and one bronze and Israel took third place with a gold and bronze.

14. Team USA
The U.S. has won a total of 15 medals for wheelchair tennis since the sport debuted at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games. With six gold, six silver and three bronze medals, the U.S. has managed to rank within the top three countries for wheelchair tennis at each Paralympic Games.

15. Team to watch
Since the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games, Netherlands has ranked as the number one country for winning the most medals at each Games. The country has won a total of 32 medals, with 15 gold, nine silver and eight bronze. Netherlands has the highest number of medals for wheelchair tennis out of all the participating countries.

16. Where to watch in 2016
Wheelchair tennis will be hosted at Rio Olympic Park at the Olympic Tennis Center in Barra. The venue will have 16 courts during the Games. Following the Games, the Olympic Tennis Center will have nine courts and become part of Rio’s Olympic Training Center.

To learn more about Paralympic wheelchair tennis, visit the United States Tennis Association website and TeamUSA.org.