Tennis league included | One in a wheelchair, the other standing

In a singles tennis league in Pincourt, Montérégie, players in wheelchairs have been competing against standing opponents since the beginning of the summer. An inclusive league model unique in Quebec.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Valerie Simard

Valerie Simard
The Press

“You force yourself as if you were playing against someone standing up!” “Says Carl Desbiens to his opponent before starting his fourth match in this league of about sixty players, organized by the Pincourt Tennis Club.

On this hot July evening, on a field in Bellevue Park, Carl Desbiens, one of the league’s four wheelchair players, faces Chris Weidner for the first time. Standing player, the latter is ranked 35e and describes himself as “more or less beginner”.

In this league, the matches are played in the Pro-8 formula, that is to say that the first to win eight games wins. Players compete according to their place in the ranking. If one of them is in a wheelchair, the rules are the same as in ordinary tennis, except that on the latter’s side, the ball can make two links. With his powerful serve and his quick forehand, Carl Desbiens easily managed to win the victory, his first since joining this league at the start of the season. Final on points: 8-3.

“It was a good experience for me too, reacts Chris Weidner after shaking hands with the winner. It’s a good racket shot! »

For years, Carl Desbiens played tennis standing up with his prosthesis. As a teenager in the 1990s, he was the victim of a serious bicycle accident on a country road in the Saguenay where he is from. His left leg had to be amputated.

It was after discovering wheelchair basketball that he decided to learn adapted tennis in 2019.


PHOTO DAVID BOILY, THE PRESS

Carl Desbiens played tennis standing up for a long time, with his prosthesis. Today, he plays in a wheelchair.

It’s not easy on the ego, because every time I finish a game, I tell myself that if I had been standing, I would have won! But, the goal is to improve my wheelchair game.

Carl Desbiens, wheelchair tennis player member of the Quebec team

Today it is 3e in the Quebec ranking and he finished 6e at the most recent Canadian Championship.

Carl Desbiens joined a wheelchair tennis development program launched just before the pandemic by Étienne Bergeron, coach and founder of the EB Tennis school, with some private funding. The four wheelchair players he coaches are members of the Quebec wheelchair tennis team. Natalia Lanucha is the same Canadian champion. In mid-June, she won the first edition of the Omnium international de Saint-Hyacinthe in women’s singles.

Accustomed to training with his three teammates, Carl Desbiens wanted to broaden his horizons. “The pool of wheelchair players is not huge [une vingtaine de joueurs au Québec]. We always play against the same people. As proof, there is no female category at the provincial level. Women compete against men in tournaments.

Initial resistance

To be exposed to different styles of play, the Pincourt Tennis Club was asked to join its singles league. His teammates followed, but their request created complexes. Some club members have expressed reluctance.

They said: people will be uncomfortable playing against them. We had to meet and I debated my point. It’s 2022. You don’t have to be uncomfortable playing against someone in a wheelchair.

Carl Desbiens, wheelchair tennis player member of the Quebec team

Some even believed that wheelchair players would benefit from an unfair advantage, says Étienne Bergeron. Wrongly, since movement in a wheelchair is less fluid.

“People still have a lot of prejudices,” he laments. I’m sure there are people who find it inconvenient to think that they are going to lose against someone who is disabled or who has an adaptation in the sport. » Before being a full-time tennis coach [il a d’ailleurs été celui de Leylah Fernandez à ses débuts], Étienne Bergeron worked on the integration of students with special needs into the regular classes of an elementary school. “For me, it is sure that it is done [intégrer des joueurs en fauteuil dans une ligue ordinaire]. And it’s much less complicated with them, they are super autonomous! »

To allay concerns, club president Denise Bergeron (who is also the coach’s mother) organized an activity where all league members were invited to meet the wheelchair players. “People have finally adapted very well. Now they are used to seeing them and they are part of us, ”remarks the one who had faced Natalia Lanucha a few days earlier in a tight match that the president finally won.

Carl Desbiens is convinced that these matches allow him to improve.

Standing players are faster, they will pick up more balls, so it forces me to think about my game differently, to be more precise, to make faster decisions.

Carl Desbiens, wheelchair tennis player member of the Quebec team

Natalia Lanucha is less categorical. “I don’t have an answer yet. It’s an adaptation. For me, the goal is to get used to a match, to the pressure of a match. »

“Playing with people standing up helps me prepare more for the base. They hit all the balls! »

Their coach believes in it. “It’s an adaptation that will make them better players. Tennis, whether in a wheelchair or standing, you have to be able to adapt to a lot of situations. Together, we are all tennis players, that’s what’s important. »

“Why I fought to be included in the league, it is also to perhaps set an example and, if it ever happens again in other clubs, that they accept without hesitation”, declares Carl Desbiens.

Elsewhere in Canada

If such integration within a league is unique in Quebec, it exists elsewhere in Canada, in British Columbia in particular, underlines the national wheelchair tennis coach at Tennis Canada and Paralympic medalist, Kai Schrameyer. “One of our national team players in BC plays every week with able-bodied players and he likes it. […] Any additional opportunity wheelchair players have to play for points and experience the game is a great addition to their program. »

“And it’s not asking the able-bodied player who wins!” he points out. It can be a challenge for both parties. »

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