Liz Trundle catches up with wheelchair tennis world number 3, Gordon Reid
Some have drawn parallels between Gordon ‘Gio’ Reid and a certain Mr Murray – though as the former observes, “I still have a way to go to match Andy’s Grand Slams!” As a fellow Scot, however, Reid happily acknowledges that Murray’s success has “Produced more interest and a greater platform for me too.”
Given his achievements as a Paralympic champion and one of the most revered wheelchair tennis singles and doubles competitors on the world stage, there’s little doubt that Reid fully deserves such recognition.
As with many aspiring sporting competitors, Reid’s path to the top has been far from easy. Beset by a lack of funding while juggling his schoolwork with an intensive training schedule, ‘Gio’s’ early days speak of dedication and hard graft.
Looking back now, Reid says, “I was just so pleased that I could continue with the sport I loved. I played able-bodied tennis from six – the whole family played – and it really was my favourite sport.”
In 2004 Reid was diagnosed with transverse myelitis – a neurological condition affecting the nerves in the spine – which resulted in the aspiring young tennis player having to undergo urgent surgery. “When I came out of hospital after my operation and I was paralysed from the waist down,” Reid recalls. “But since then things have improved, and now I only need the wheelchair for longer distances and sports; I can do most things in my everyday life.”
By his teenage years, Reid had set his sights high. In 2007 he became Britain’s youngest men’s Singles National Champion and was part of the junior GB team that won that year’s World Team Cup. Then in 2008 came what he still feels is his greatest achievement to date, when he represented ParalympicsGB at Beijing while aged just 16.
The next level
As the run-up to the London 2012 Games got underway, Reid began hearing from sponsors, including racquet maker Wilson, Adidas, wheelchair specialist RGK, and successfully secured funding from the Tennis Foundation. As had been the case with Andy Murray, a fine performance on home turf – which saw Reid finish as a quarter finalist in both the singles and doubles – marked his ascendancy to the sport’s elite levels.
“Just before and after London 2012 my following definitely increased dramatically,” Reid remembers, “and there are now many more people participating in the sport on the back of London, from grassroots to higher performance levels.”
Wheelchair tennis follows the same ITF (International Tennis Federation) points-based ranking system as that used in able-bodied tennis, albeit with categories according to the nature of players’ disabilities.
In wheelchair tennis there are two categories – an open division for players with lower limb disabilities, and a quad division for competitors with lower and upper disability, or three or more affected limbs.
In great shape
Reid presently competes in the open category for both singles and doubles tournaments, and has continued to climb the international rankings to the point where he is now world number three in singles and number five for doubles.
So who does he see as his main rivals for the top slot? “The strongest player, the one that everyone is targeting, is Japan’s Shingo Kunieda,” Reid says. “He’s been the best player for the past seven years, but there’s also an Argentinian player – Gustavo Fernindez – who’s having lots of success and who, like me, has come up through the ranks. Age and success-wise, we’re about the same.”
Following a solid showing at the Australian Open earlier this year, this month saw Reid claim his first Grand Slam, partnering with Shingo Kunieda to finish first in the the men’s doubles at this year’s Roland Garros wheelchair tennis event in Paris. Of his southern hemisphere experiences, Reid says that, “One of the main positives I took away from Australia was playing doubles with Alfie Hewett, a young player from Norwich who at 17 is just starting to get more experienced and is definitely one to watch. I won two titles with Alfie; We got to the semi-finals in the Sydney Open and then went on to win both the Brisbane and Melbourne Opens.”
Reid is thus confident and in great shape to challenge his rivals at Wimbledon this July – but notes that, “in wheelchair tennis, Wimbledon is probably the lowest regarded tournament! Grass is a lot tougher than clay for us to play on and Wimbledon is our only grass court event, run over the second weekend with just four doubles teams competing. The other three Grand Slam events are currently seen as more important, with higher prize money.”
That said, the sport is continuing to progress. “People are training harder and getting physically stronger,” Reid concludes, “so hopefully more teams will start competing on grass and there will be more Association of Tennis Professionals events run in both singles and doubles.”
You can track Gordon Reid’s progress by following him on Twitter, where he posts as @GordonReid91
Tips from the top
Gordon Reid offers some advice on getting started in wheelchair tennis
- To find a club near you, visit the Tennis Foundation page at the Lawn Tennis Association’s (LTA) website or contact 0845 872 0522
- It’s no more expensive to play locally than able-bodied tennis. Since London 2012, centres are increasingly offering wheelchairs on loan. There are tennis chairs available at all centres supported by the Tennis Foundation; alternatively you can contact the Dan Maskell Tennis Trust and apply for a grant to purchase your own.
- Subsidised training camps are being run by the Lawn TA throughout 2015, at which licensed coaches will introduce you to the basics of the game, provide equipment (including sports wheelchairs) and give advice on where to continue playing in your local area.
- Just give it a go, as a hobby – try other sports at the same time, and find out which one you like and are best at.
The Countdown to Rio
With just under a year to go, Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of the British Paralympic Association updates us on ParalympicsGB’s preparations for the Rio 2016 Summer Games…
Since London 2012 we’ve seen an upward curve in people getting involved in lots of different sports and new blood coming through the ranks. This has come about thanks to the opportunities offered after 2012, and promotion through the work of the British Paralympic Association [BPA] and the National Governing Bodies of our sports.
The BPA has two core beliefs – to promote the Paralympic movement by generating excitement and interest in Paralympic sport, and to help shift perceptions of disabled people in the UK. As part of this promotional activity, each year we organise National Paralympic Day – with 2015’s event shaping up to be bigger and better than ever before.
There is still a massive appetite for Paralympic sport after London, and National Paralympic Day is important because it gives people an opportunity to come together, cheer on our athletes and celebrate what they love about the Paralympics.
In Rio, we are looking at a target of 121 medals (one more than London) and will be competing in two more sports – para-triathlon and para-canoeing. We’re hoping that 250 to 260 will qualify for the team, and currently have potential competitors ranging in age from mid-teens in swimming, to 70 in shooting.
Images courtesy of the Tennis Foundation