GB's Dermot Bailey focused on performance to be proud of on Paralympic debut | ITF

Bailey focused on performance to be proud of on Paralympic debut

26 Aug 2021

Five years ago, Dermot Bailey was watching Rio 2016 unfold from behind the scenes as part of British Paralympic Association’s Paralympic Inspiration Programme. On Friday, he makes his debut against Spain’s Daniel Caverzaschi in the opening match on Court 1 – the latest milestone met on a five-year journey into the world of professional wheelchair tennis.

“It’s been big,” admits the 27-year-old. “Going from working full-time to full-time tennis has been a big change. You give up that stability of a ‘proper’ job and stable income to do something so dependent on performance, and the different pressures that brings. That’s been interesting.

“It’s had its difficult spells before Covid, and then Covid threw a spanner in the works for everything, really. But it feels really good, my first Paralympic experience as a player. Rio was brilliant in terms of my watching brief, trying to get an understanding of how the Games worked behind the scenes. But now it’s completely different as a player.”

In the three years since committing to the sport full-time in 2018, Bailey has seen his ranking shoot as high as No. 25 in the world in 2019. Playing as the world No. 33 in Tokyo, the left-hander knows he faces a tough draw in Tokyo: he is yet to beat Caverzaschi in nine career meetings but lost their last encounter by the narrowest of margins, a third-set tiebreak after winning the first set 6-0.

“I don’t have a target really, I just want to perform well,” Bailey admits of his Paralympic ambitions. “If I play well and win, brilliant. I’m not going to put pressure on myself, say I’m going out to win a medal or reach a certain round. If I play well and lose, I can’t complain.”

If he is in need of further inspiration for what can be achieved, he need look no further than his fellow Paralympics GB teammates – Gordon Reid, the Rio 2016 singles gold medallist, who won doubles silver with Alfie Hewett; Lucy Shuker and Jordanne Whiley, twice doubles bronze medallists in tandem; and Andy Lapthorne, winner of three medals at the past two Paralympics, and Bailey’s roommate in Tokyo.

“I’m in an apartment with Lappo [Andy Lapthorne] and Ant [Antony Cotterill], and it’s been fun,” Bailey said. “Both of their personalities are good to be around in that environment, because you can either be on your own and nobody’s taking offence, or you can sit around and have a laugh and a joke.”

Football passions have been a part of the Paralympic experience in the apartment, with Lapthorne’s West Ham recently beating Bailey’s Newcastle on the opening weekend of the Premier League season. There’s no love lost for Steve Bruce in Tokyo, but Bailey has nothing but good things to say about his experiences with the locals he has met since arriving in Japan.

“The Japanese staff in the hotel, people from the tennis centre, the government officials we had to deal with at the holding camp, they were all really good, really helpful,” Bailey said. “Any problem we’ve had, they’ve fixed it immediately. They’re so welcoming, so friendly, it’s a brilliant place to be – and when everything is being dealt with in the background like that, you can just focus on performing. That’s exactly what we’ve needed.

“This last week, with the holding camp and all the heat preparation, seems to be going really well. It’s obviously a completely different climate to back home, so we needed to get out here and test ourselves in the environment before we get into match play. Now I’m just looking forward to starting.”

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