Tabebuia Open Championship Trophy, the second AITA ranking tournament of 2017 in the Indian Wheelchair Tennis Tour (IWTT) was launched by Arjuna awardee Reeth Abraham and former Davis Cupper Srinath Prahlad at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA) on Tuesday, December 12.
The Tabebuia Open, a four-day event -- starting December 14 at the KSLTA -- will witness a total of 42 wheelchair tennis players from India, including six women and 36 men. 21 players from Delhi, Coimbatore, Chennai, Mumbai, Dharwad and other cities will be seen in action.
Notably, the first tournament of the IWTT was held in Bengaluru last year and it was followed by Marina Open, held in Chennai earlier this year. The tournaments, being held under the aegis of the All-India Tennis Association (AITA) and KSLTA, is an idea born out of the encouragement of the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
Defending champion wants more wheelchair tennis tournaments in India
Defending men's singles champion Shekhar Veeraswamy is touted as the favourite to finish on the top step of the podium this year as well. The 29-year-old, who also doubles up as an assistant coach at the KSLTA, said he is looking forward to the tournament, which carries a total prize money of Rs 2.5 lakh.
Shekhar is confident of a good show as he is heading into the tournament on the back of a title winning-run at the Bangkok Cup (second category) in Thailand in October.
"I need to play minimum 10 tournaments a year to improve my ranking. Every month, I need to play, but that is still not the case, in our country" Shekhar, who was present at the launch along with women's singles top seed Prathima Rao, told International Business Times, India.
- The tournament will be played in general format (competitors with lower limb impairment) because of the lack of quad players (competitors with both upper and lower limb impairments) in the country, according to IWTT.
- It will be held in men's singles and doubles and women's singles and doubles, subject to a minimum of three entries. Entries close on Wednesday, December 13.
- There will be a knockout draw of 32 (men), with the top 24 getting direct entry. There will be a qualification round on December 13 from which eight will enter the main draw.
What are the rules specific to wheelchair tennis
The rules are exactly the same as regular tennis.
But, the only change is that the receiver can take the ball on the second bounce during a serve. The first bounce will have to be as per regular tennis rules but the second can be anywhere on the court, even outside.
'Lack of awareness biggest challenge'
Meanwhile, IWTT chairman and founder of NGO -- Astha -- Sunil Jain says the organization has already begun efforts to conduct three tournaments in 2018. He added that they are looking at introducing wheelchair tennis to five new cities in the country.
"IWTT is an initiative to transform how people with disability are perceived. We are committed, next year we will have three tournaments. At the same time, create five more cities in India where wheelchair tennis will be introduced," Jain said.
He added: "We could mobilise about 14 players when we conducted a weekend workshop in Mumbai earlier this year. And one of those participants is coming to take part in the upcoming tournament."
Jain also shed light on the challenges wheelchair tennis faces in the country. Lack of awareness is the primary hurdle, but the limitations when it comes to technical expertise and hard infrastructure are also making life difficult for wheelchair tennis players.
"The basic challenge is awareness. Still, for whatever reason, disability sport is considered a charity model. This is not a charity model, it is an overall human development process," Jain said.
"Then there is soft infrastructure. We hardly have any technical expertise in India to coach wheelchair tennis players.
"Then the hard infrastructure, courts, racquets and sports wheelchairs. Getting competitive and modern wheelchairs is a concern as their prices may go up from Rs 35,000 each for a local tournament to Rs3 to 6 lakh each for an international tournament."
Rahul Dravid and Rohan Bopanna laud initiative
Former Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid, who supports the cause, had said: "To watch the passion with which differently-abled sportspersons play is really inspiring. We need to do all we can to help them in their sporting journeys as I believe it will lead to a much stronger community."
French Open mixed doubles champion Rohan Bopanna too chipped in: "The commitment of the team at IWTT is commendable. To develop the sport at the grassroots level, it is very important that there are regular competitions like these. These competitions will motivate more people to take up this sport. I hope IWTT gets support from everyone and Indian Wheelchair Tennis gets onto the world map soon."