Photo: Mathilde DsuolMacarena Cabrillana (CHI)
With the wheelchair tennis event getting underway at the first Para South American Games in Santiago, Chile today Macarena Cabrillana will be hoping she can secure an early birthday present.
Cabrillana will be the second seed for the women’s singles competition as the ITF Futures Series event, which is sanctioned as part of the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour, takes its place among the seven medal sports at the Games. The current Chilean No. 2 will hope to live up to her seeding and be on the podium in her home city ahead of her 22nd birthday next Monday, the day after the Games come to an end.
It’s less than six years since Cabrillana was injured in a fall when she was ill with depression as a 16-year-old in June 2008. She was introduced to wheelchair tennis as part of her rehabilitation programme in September 2008; the same month that some of the players she lines up alongside in Santiago took part in the Beijing Paralympic Games.
Cabrillana played wheelchair tennis once a week for the next two years and in 2010 she was offered sponsorship, which allowed her to train more regularly as well as providing her with clothing and racquets. In 2011 she started playing wheelchair tennis full-time and she now trains twice a day.
“Before my accident I had never played tennis and didn’t come from a tennis family; I played basketball at school, but never really saw the attraction of wheelchair basketball and preferred the idea of wheelchair tennis,” says Cabrillana. “The fact that there were a few women playing the sport in Chile appealed to me and I aspired to play like Francisca Mardones and Robinson Mendez.”
Cabrillana credits Mardones, as well as her coach Doris Gildemeister, as being of great help and encouragement since she began wheelchair tennis. In the current rankings world No. 23 Cabrillana is the second highest-ranked South American woman, six places behind current Chilean No. 1 Mardones, with Brazil’s Natalya Mayara, another leading medal contender in Santiago, ranked just one place behind Cabrillana.
The 21-year-old played her first tournaments on the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour in 2009 and won her first singles and doubles titles at the Brazil Open in December 2011. She won four singles titles in both 2012 and 2013 and in June 2013 claimed her first title outside of South America when being part of the winning women’s doubles partnership at the ITF 2 Series Slovakia Open.
“I enjoy travelling to different parts of the world to play, but particularly enjoy travelling as part of a team and representing Chile,” says Cabrillana, who represented her country in the BNP Paribas World Team Cup in Korea Republic in 2012 and in Turkey in 2013 before playing for her country in the BNP Paribas World Team Cup Americas Qualification earlier this month.
Cabrillana is one of many players for who wheelchair tennis has developed from being a form of rehabilitation to becoming a true passion and she has taken part in a variety of wheelchair tennis clinics and demonstrations in Santiago to try and inspire other people to play. This week she hopes that her own performances on the court in Santiago will also encourage others to take up wheelchair tennis.
After winning her first titles in Brazil in December 2011 she is, of course, also targeting a return to Brazil to compete on a much bigger stage in 2016 and is training hard in a bid to qualify for the Rio Paralympic Games.
Thirty players from six countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – will compete in the wheelchair tennis event at the Para South American Games on 27-30 March.