In tennis terms, I'm a so-called Club Player. What does that mean? I belong to an organization (San Diego Tennis Network), play evening tennis during the week, daytime tennis during the weekends. I usually play one USTA league a year, some World Team Tennis, and - if I feel confident enough - one or two tournaments. My level of play is intermediate to advanced, so on good days I can hold my own in a 4.5 doubles match, on bad days I am too slow for a 3.5 senior ladies match. My health status is relatively good, overcame the familiar tennis elbow (ask me if you want to know how), and avoided knee surgery by using a $29 velcro brace, which works wonders for me. Never had shoulder surgery, always think I could lose a few pounds. You know, the usual stuff for a middle aged tennis junkie.
Why am I telling you this? Because I got humbled a few days ago playing an invitational Up-Down warm-up for the US open Wheelchair Championships on Monday. Up-down (or One-up / One-down, as they often call it) means an able bodied player and a wheelchair player play doubles against a similar team. The rules are the same as regular doubles, except that the Wheelchair player always gets two bounces. And boy, are they able to use that rule and give you powerful returns and very smart lobs. I was floored by the level of tennis these athletes displayed, and those weren't even the top seeded players.
Why did I feel humbled? Here I was with my $150 racquet, $75 shoes, and $40 shirt and shorts, looking at players who, in addition to the same equipment and outfit, have to shell out $4-5000 just to get on the court. That's what the low-end wheelchairs cost. Plus maybe an extra chair for carrying the tennis bag. Many of those chairs have to be rigged in order to accommodate special handicaps and enable these guys (and gals) to play. One man had somewhat deformed hands and needed to tape the racquet onto his wrist. This guy had some of the most wicked and effective lobs I have ever seen. All players need to be strapped in to stabilize their bodies and feet, and all need to develop a suitable serving technicque, mostly with one arm, since the other arm often had to keep the wheelchair from moving during the serving motion.
I felt really bad putting on my knee brace. All my little pains were gone, because I heard no complaints whatsoever from any of the wheelchair players about their situation. They were coming out to play and show us how well they can hit that yellow ball. That was an eye-opening afternoon for me. I made many friends playing with 4 different wheelchair players, and promised them to come back towards the end of the week to watch some more.
Wanna try playing Up-Down tennis one day? Let me know and I'll organize some matches one day. Being on the Board of the local USTA District, the San Diego District Tennis Association, I have great connections to secure courts and players for such an event.
If you've never seen WheelchairTennis players in action, go to the Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma this weekend, and watch the best of the best from many different countries compete at the 28th US Open USTA National Wheelchair Championships (http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=55305)
Oh yes, you probably want to know how I did in the Up-Down events on Monday? Pretty good, except for the fact that twice I was confronted with the same 5.5 woman as the opposite able bodied player. And you know what a 5.5 female player does with a 4.0 man? Everything she wants to! She took charge and effectively prevented me from hitting too much to the wheelchair player. I had my hands full just getting to her shots, she didn't even have to play to my partner too much. I didn't really care, to be honest. Learned my lesson and had a great time. That's what tennis is all about.
Btw, just so you league players out there know: A wheelchair player can join any USTA league if he/she wants to. As long as you give them the ramp to roll onto the court, or help them carry them down the steps, and let them have their two bounces, they're happy.