After breaking his back in 1988, Niclas Rodhborn began playing wheelchair tennis six months after his accident. By 1990 he joined the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour, making his national team debut that same year in the World Team Cup in Irvine, California.
Now 22 years later, the Swedish all-time leader in World Team Cup appearances looks to continue his love of the sport through managing, improving wheelchair tennis, and helping grow the profile of disabled persons.
Rodhborn remains active in Swedish wheelchair tennis even into his retirement. He currently serves on a committee that addresses the challenges and potential growth for the sport in Sweden. “The sport is very small here, we have between 30-60 players active,” said Rodhborn.
“We are a small country and we must fly to get to the tournaments in central Europe. It is expensive, so many players give up because they can’t afford it. Also, many have a handicap like me and for us the sport is too unfair to be able to climb the ranking to the top no matter how talented and dedicated you are.”
Rodhborn is referring to the fact he has no working muscles in the lower half of his body or core, which causes deficiency in balance and overall strength. Wheelchair tennis does not have different classifications for amputees and those with spinal injuries like most other Paralympic sports.
“A new category is the only solution to make the sport more fair,” says Rodhborn, who despite his condition rose to No. 11 overall in the world in 2002. Rodhborn says that he and others have sent a proposal to the ITF to create a new category on the Tour for those with spinal injuries ‘to make the sport more fair and welcoming all handicaps’.
When he is not working on bettering the sport off the court, Rodhborn is also working with the next generation of Swedish wheelchair tennis players. Rodhborn will manage the Swedish National Team ahead of the 2013 BNP Paribas World Team Cup in Antalya, Turkey.
“I will manage the team probably up until the Paralympics in Rio 2016, then we will see,” adds Rodhborn.
In 2012, Sweden defeated Belgium and Austria before losing to the Netherlands and Japan in the playoffs, finishing fourth in the men’s World Group.
In addition to managing the Swedish National Team, Rodhborn will continue his job of commentating on WTA/ATP tennis events for Eurosport. Each year Rodhborn works on three Grand Slams, the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open, in addition to smaller tournaments. He has worked on 14 tournaments so far and ‘will keep on commentating for Eurosport as much as they want me to work for them’.
Commentating on Eurosport is not Rodhborn’s only foray into television. Currently, he is one of ten disabled individuals staring in the Swedish television show ‘Mot olla odds’. Translated as ‘Beyond all odds’, the show is a remake of the popular British reality television programme ‘Beyond Boundaries’.
For the show Rodhborn and nine other individuals traversed the jungles of Nicaragua travelling from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in 28 days.
“We walk every day for 28 days and it’s a total of 500km,” said Rodhborn recounting his experience.
“We sleep in tents in the night and we live without a toilet or running water the whole time! We only sleep one night in every place so we must put up the camp every night after walking nine hours. [We] wake up at five o´clock every morning to take down the camp, get breakfast, and then walk again.
“The aim is to help each other, so everybody makes it to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, no one of us could do this alone, and we have different qualities because of different handicaps.”
As Rodhborn transitions into a new phase of his wheelchair tennis career he continues to work for the sport in all facets. Whether it is through commentating or actively working to improve the sport behind the scenes, Sweden’s all time World Team Cup appearance leader will be there.