Photo: James Jordan PhotographyRichard Wheeler and James McCabe (GBR) - EBTC 2013
Following his debut at the European Beach Tennis Championships, Team GB captain Richard Wheeler talks about how he became involved in the sport.
“I have been playing for a year now, I began last August . Having seen beach tennis a few years ago on the ITF website and some clips on YouTube and then while sitting and watching the Olympics last year I thought I must look up beach tennis and get playing. I saw that we had a tournament in Bournemouth and I entered.”
Beach tennis has been attracting players in the UK for many years now and one of its great attractions is its accessibility to a whole range of standards.
“When you watch it, it looks like quite an easy sport but certainly one of the good things about the sport is that if a player does start playing, they can get a rally going and it is easier than quite a lot of racket sports from that point of view," said Wheeler. "But at the elite level, it’s a very tough sport and you need very fast reactions and agility and a good touch.”
“I do have a few people saying that it is just a ‘pit pat’ on the beach and I show them some footage on YouTube so they can really appreciate it.”
Unsurprisingly, beach tennis is not the only racket sport Wheeler plays.
“I’m actually a tennis coach, and [I play] other sports as well, a bit of football, badminton and I found beach tennis a combination of beach volleyball, badminton and tennis so it makes for a good action packed sport.”
Living hours away from a beach, Wheeler conceded that training for the big tournaments is not easy.
“I have set up a court in my back garden, albeit on grass rather than sand but it helps your touch and you can still practice you serve.”
As a tennis coach, Wheeler admitted having some initial concerns about whether beach tennis would affect his tennis but concluded: “It hasn’t affected it. I see it as a totally different sport and when I’m back on the tennis court it doesn’t affect me.
"I think for a child or an adult learning the game they can play both and actually it can help develop their hand-eye coordination. I think in the future people will play beach tennis and then progress on to play tennis.”
As the sport has grown both in the UK and worldwide, the demand for beach tennis coaches has also increased along with it.
“It would be wonderful if I could become a beach tennis coach as well,” Wheeler smiled, “to add another string to the bow.”
Wheeler was not short of reasons as to why he believes the sport has enjoyed such successful growth in recent years.
“I think the atmosphere, the sand and the locations and [it] is very chilled out and relaxed, although it can get tense on court as well,” he added.
“It’s still very competitive but the spirit between the players and just the whole atmosphere and being on the beach and diving around in the sand is always fun too. I grew up with Boris Becker as my idol so I always liked diving around!”