2009 French Open

Wheelchair Tennis Exposure Moving in The Right Direction

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - FEBRUARY 10:  Champion wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer of Netherlands and Rafael Nadal of Spain pose for a photo during day two of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament at the Ahoy Centre Rotterdam on February 10, 2009 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)
Monica FritschCorrespondent IMay 29, 2009

The 2009 French Open is in full swing, with a limited amount of upsets, after a week of competition. Well, at least not statistically.

Heading into the first weekend, many of the world’s top able-bodied players will be flying home from Roland Garros, allowing the world’s top wheelchair players to roll into town for their chance at Grand Slam glory.

The top seven women and men’s Nippon Electric Company Wheelchair Tennis Tour players, plus two wild cards will play on the clay of Roland Garros alongside the likes of Roger Federer, Venus and Serena Williams and the “King of Clay” himself, Rafael “Rafa” Nadal, June 3-5.

With most of the able-bodied players gone by Wednesday of “Week 2,” you would think T.V. time would be available for the duration of the wheelchair tennis divisions. However, tournament organizers don’t seem to care about gaining more exposure for tennis, even when timing allows it.

If you think able-bodied doubles players get no love from TV stations, you should try being a wheelchair doubles player. This directly goes against the promotional methods of the International Tennis Federation. According to their website, “The ITF markets tennis through television, PR, event management and sponsorship.”

While NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour players don’t use feet and legs to move around the court, they’re still playing the same sport, on the same court, with the same tennis balls and racquets. So, it’s baffling as to why wheelchair tennis isn’t shown on T.V. since it’s indeed tennis, on a professional level.

The NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour is getting their act together though, with the classification of Grand Slam events--the same four in which the able-bodied players compete. Wheelchair tennis was put in the T.V. spotlight, in a half-hour special hosted by legendary tennis journalist, Bud Collins, on Tennis Channel, at the U.S. Open 2008.

Also, three high-profile ATP World Tour players started off the 2009 season by supporting wheelchair tennis. Andy Roddick participated in a wheelchair tennis clinic in Chile and Nadal did a wheelchair tennis exhibition with NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour No. 1 women’s singles player, Esther Vergeer.

Tommy Robredo is holding the first ever Open Diputacion de Girona wheelchair tennis tournament, to honor his friend, wheelchair tennis player and tournament organizer, Santi Silvas, who passed away in 2008.

Robredo wanted to make sure his friend’s dream came true, to include everyone in a sport he loved. “We want to show people that tennis can be played by everybody,” Robredo said.

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