The London 2012 Paralympic Games gets underway tomorrow when the Opening Ceremony takes place at the Olympic Stadium and 4,200 athletes are welcomed to the biggest Paralympic Games ever.
The sixth Paralympic Tennis Event, featuring 112 players from 31 countries, takes place from 1-8 September at Eton Manor, the only purpose-built venue for London 2012. Medals will be contested in six events – men’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s singles, women’s doubles, quad singles and quad doubles.
The Draw Ceremony at Eton Manor on Thursday, 30 August, is eagerly anticipated. Among the guests will be Brad Parks, the man who founded wheelchair tennis in 1976 and the first wheelchair tennis player to be inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010. During the Draw Ceremony Parks will present the Brad Parks Award, the annual award made by the ITF to an individual or organisation that has made a significant contribution to wheelchair tennis.
Singles entries for London 2012 were a combination of direct acceptances based on the ITF wheelchair world rankings of 21 May 2012, and Bipartite Commission Invitation places awarded by the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Committee and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The winners of the 2010 Asian Para Games and the 2011 Para PanAm Games also received a direct entry.
The men’s singles at London 2012 could be one of the most open ever at a Paralympic Games. World No. 1 Stephane Houdet will seek to add men’s singles gold to the men’s doubles gold me won with Michael Jeremiasz in Beijing and Houdet and Jeremiasz lead a strong French challenge.
Shingo Kunieda of Japan will create history if he can become the first man to win two Paralympic men’s singles gold medals. After losing his world No. 1 ranking for the first time in four years at the end of 2011 and undergoing elbow surgery earlier this season, the Beijing champion looked to have returned to his best when winning July’s British Open, a result that has helped him back to No. 2 in the rankings.
Beijing bronze medallist Maikel Scheffers, the 2011 ITF World Champion, will hope to finish higher on the podium than he did in Beijing and if he does it will be an ideal birthday gift. The Dutchman’s birthday is on the penultimate day of competition at Eton Manor. Scheffers leads another strong Dutch challenge for singles and doubles medals, which also includes Ronald Vink and Athens 2004 gold medallist and Beijing silver medallist Robin Ammerlaan.
Vink went into Beijing as the eleventh seed, but reached the semifinals on his Paralympic Games debut before losing out to Scheffers in the bronze medal match. Meanwhile, Ammerlaan won the Eton Manor International, the Test Event in May, having had his quest for back-to-back gold medallist thwarted by Kunieda in Beijing.
Four years out from Rio, Brazil hosting the Paralympic Games, Argentina’s world No. 5 Gustavo could become the first South American to win a Paralympic Tennis Event medal. Fernandez won the men’s singles gold medal at the Parapan Am Games in 2011 to earn his qualification for London 2012 and has had some fine results this season, including winning his first Super Series title at the Japan Open.
The women’s singles list is again headed by an incredibly strong quartet of Dutch players, who occupy four of the world’s top five. They include three-time Paralympic champion Esther Vergeer of Netherlands, who arrives in London unbeaten in 465 matches since the end of January.
Vergeer will also attempt to win her third Paralympic doubles title with new partner Marjolein Buis, having won doubles gold in Sydney and Athens, and silver in Beijing. Just one more medal for Vergeer will see her become the player with the most Paralympic Tennis medals, a feat she currently shares with David Hall of Australia, who also won six medals during his career.
Aside from world No. 5 Buis, the Dutch challenge also comes from world No.2 Aniek van Koot, the only player to have taken a set off Vergeer so far this season, and Jiske Griffioen, who partnered Vergeer women’s doubles silver in Beijing.
Leading the bid to try and prevent an all-Dutch podium is world No. 4 Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany, the highest ranked non-Dutch player. Ellerbrock didn’t even start playing wheelchair tennis until 2009, but has made significant progress since and won her first Super Series title at May’s Japan Open.
Other contenders include South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane, who will hope to become first African player to win a Paralympic Tennis medal, while Japan’s Yui Kamiji, the world No. 1 ranked junior, will be among other players to look out for.
Wednesday’s Opening Ceremony will see Peter Norfolk have the honour of being flag bearer for the Great Britain team. Norfolk will bid to win his third Paralympic quad singles gold medal in front of his home crowd, but goes into a Paralympic Tennis Event without a world top two ranking for the first time in three Games.
Current world No. 1 David Wagner of USA will bid to improve on his singles silver medal in Athens and his bronze medal in Beijing, while Wagner and Nick Taylor will aim to win their third successive quad doubles gold medal.
Andy Lapthorne will join Norfolk in providing a strong British challenge in the quad singles and doubles, while Israel’s Noam Gershony goes into first Paralympic Games world ranked No.2 in quad singles. Gershony will partner Shraga Weinberg as Israel attempt to win a quad doubles gold medal for the second Games in succession.
Among the other players to watch out for are Sweden’s Anders Hard, silver medallist in the Test Event in May behind Norfolk, Britain’s Jamie Burdekin and South Africa’s Lucas Sithole.
The full list of singles and doubles entries can be viewed here..
To view the London 2012 Paralympic Tennis Event Schedule, please click here.