Member of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair tennisMember of Team USA Competes in Paralympic Wheelchair tennis

Wheelchair tennis

When 18-year-old acrobatic skier Brad Parks lost the use of his legs after a tragic accident, he didn’t stay down for long. He collaborated with fellow wheelchair athlete Jeff Minnenbraker to invent wheelchair tennis as a part of their rehabilitation. They started teaching others the sport through clinics and enthusiasm spread quickly, first through the West Coast of the United States and then the world.

The object of the game is to use a racket to hit a tennis ball over a center net into the opponent’s half of the court. You score points if the opponent is unable to return the ball over the net. Paralympic wheelchair tennis competition is almost identical to Olympic tennis competition, with one exception: two bounces are allowed instead of one before you must return the ball back over the net. Serving is also modified: the server is allowed one push of the wheelchair before hitting the ball, but the wheelchair may not go beyond the boundary line until after the serve. Some quad players are allowed to have another person drop the ball for their serve.

 

TIMELINE:

1970s
Wheelchair tennis invented in the United States

1980
National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis (NFWT) formed

1985
The World Team Cup, an international wheelchair tennis competition, established

1987
Wheelchair tennis added to Wheelchair Games program in Stoke Mandeville

1988
International Wheelchair Tennis Foundation (IWTF) formed

1988
Wheelchair tennis debuts as a demonstration sport at the Seoul Paralympic Games

1992
Wheelchair tennis debuts as a medal sport at the Barcelona Paralympic Games

1992
International Tennis Federation (ITF) launches the first Wheelchair Tennis Tour with 11 international tournaments

2004
Quad division added to wheelchair tennis at the Athens Paralympic Games

EVENTS

The Paralympic Games include six events: men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed quad singles and doubles. Each match is played best of three sets. Each set contains at least six games.

Scoring: In a game, the first point is called 15, the second 30 and the third 40. When a player wins the fourth point, he or she wins the game. The first player to win six games (by a margin of at least two games) wins the set.

EQUIPMENT

Wheelchair tennis is played on the same courts, using the same nets, rackets and balls, as standard tennis. The net is set at 1.07 meters (3.5 feet) high at the sides of the court, though it sags a bit in the middle.

Athletes use modified sport wheelchairs that offer increased balance and mobility over standard wheelchairs.

FAST FACTS

Two bounces: Even when competing against able-bodied tennis players outside the Paralympic Games, wheelchair tennis players are still allowed two bounces.

Vocab lesson: A volley is a shot in which an athlete hits the ball over the net before it bounces. A rally is a back-and-forth exchange of the ball over the net. A score of love means a score of zero.

Sweet victory: Wheelchair tennis inventor Brad Parks won a doubles gold medal with Randy Snow at the debut of wheelchair tennis as a medal event at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games.

Save it for later: Wheelchair tennis athletes wedge extra balls in the wheels of their chairs.

Superstars: Since the quad doubles event debuted at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, Team USA athletes David Wagner and Nick Taylorhave medaled at every games, many of them gold.

Athlete Spotlight:

Kaitlyn Verfuerth

Kaitlyn Verfuerth is a force of nature. The Paralympian is always on the go, from tennis practice and competitions to co-owning a yogurt shop in Flagstaff, Arizona, to coaching the girl's tennis team at Flagstaff High School to running a non-profit called Over the Rainbow, which helps children with disabilities.

Verfuerth’s journey to the Paralympic Games began when she was five years old, when her grandmother taught her the basics of tennis. When she was seven, Verfuerth was in a car accident and became a wheelchair user. She discovered wheelchair sports soon after and found a talent and drive for tennis in high school, where she enjoyed competing against her able-bodied friends.

Just a few years later, Verfuerth attended the University of Arizona on a wheelchair tennis scholarship. She made Team USA and competed at the Paralympic Games in 2004, 2008 and 2016.

Althete Spotlight Kaitlyn Verfuerth

CLASSIFICATION

Paralympic wheelchair tennis competition is open to male and female athletes with physical impairments resulting in substantial loss of function in one or both legs. Wheelchair tennis athletes are classified into one of two sport classes depending on the severity of their impairment.

Note: The models presented below are examples. A classification evaluation must be performed to determine an athlete’s sport class(es).

Physical Impairment

Visual Impairment

Intellectual Impairment

QUAD

OPEN

QUAD

Wheelchair tennis athletes with impairments that affect leg, trunk and arm function compete in this sport class. The severity of the impairment limits their ability to grip the racket and move in the wheelchair.

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair

OPEN

This sport class includes athletes with a significant and permanent impairment of one or both legs but normal arm and trunk function. Athletes in this sport class may have paraplegiaDefinition: A permanent condition in which you may be unable to move or feel both legs and/or the lower half of the body, usually due to disease or injury of the spinal cord., impaired range of motion, hypertoniaDefinition: Abnormal increase in muscle tension that reduces the ability of a muscle to stretch., ataxiaDefinition: A lack of muscle control during voluntary movements., athetosisDefinition: Condition in which abnormal muscle contractions cause involuntary writhing. or amputationsDefinition: Amputate: to cut (as a limb) from the body..

Impairment Severity Scale

UnaffectedMildModerateSevereNonfunctional
 Competes in
Wheelchair
 Range of
Severity