By Ricky Dimon
There will be wheelchair tennis at this year’s U.S. Open. There will also, of course, be able-bodied competition. But you won’t see those two disciplines interact at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. You won’t see that at any official tournament on the ATP or WTA tours.
It was on display, though, at the Hashimoto Sogyo Tennis Challenge in Japan. This is an exhibition event organized by ATP player Taro Daniel and wheelchair legend Shingo Kuneida. Local exhibitions have been popping up around the world with varying degrees of success before the typical schedule resumes in mid-August, and the Japanese duo took notes from some of the safer exhibitions such as those in the United States, France, and Great Britain (not from the Adria Tour, of course). In Japan, there are no fans or linespeople or ballboys and ballgirls. Players pick up their own balls in between points.
Speaking of points, one was especially sensational in the wheelchair/able-bodied match that featured Daniel, Kuneida, and ATP star Yoshihito Nishioka on Tuesday.
“I was able to consult with management and realize it with the cooperation of various people,” Daniel explained. “I didn’t know if the people who would see it would be happy, but I would be happy if they could enjoy it.”
“As a fan of tennis, I want to see tennis soon,” Kuneida commented. “I am grateful for this achievement.”
Wheelchair tennis has been in the news for quite some time now. It had originally been left out of the 2020 U.S. Open, which will look a lot different this year because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Wheelchair players and plenty of able-bodied allies alike did not take kindly to the USTA’s decision and made a stand. Their pleas worked. A few days later, the USTA and U.S. Open reversed course, announcing that the wheelchair competition would be held.
“The decision was made following multiple virtual meetings with a group of wheelchair athletes and the International Tennis Federation over the last week,” the USTA stated in a press release last week.” The 2020 U.S. Open Wheelchair Competition will feature Men’s and Women’s Singles and Doubles and Quad Singles and Doubles, with draw sizes similar to past U.S. Opens. Wheelchair athletes will follow the same health and safety procedures as all players participating in the U.S. Open and will be able to access the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center beginning on September 7.”
“It’s a huge turning point to show how supportive a community can be and from the bottom of my heart, I can’t say thanks enough,” said Dylan Alcott, the ringleader of the movement to get wheelchair tennis reinstated.
Let’s hope we see points in New York like the one we saw on Tuesday in Japan.