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Wheelchair Tennis – Pride and Frustration in 72 Hours!

Locker Room

May 30, 2024

What happens off the tennis court can sometimes be as dramatic as the matches on the court.

A recent week offered some perfect examples of life’s unforeseen twists and turns.

First there was the visit to Buckingham Palace for a garden party, given in recognition of recipients of the British Empire Medal (BEM) and other awards in the King’s Honours List.

As I left home for the Palace, the weather was lovely. By the time I reached London it had started to drizzle. And once I’d reached Buckingham Palace that had escalated into a downpour.

None of this dampened my enthusiasm for the event, of course. I spent a good half an hour sheltering under the umbrella of Pat, an electrician who had been working at the Palace for about six months and was loving it.

I also met Prince William and Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice. They all seemed incredibly down to earth and easy in conversation, asking me what I did and showing enthusiasm for wheelchair tennis. Princess Beatrice also mentioned that she might be at Wimbledon this year and would be keen to support the women, marvelling at the fact that her daughter Sienna would be growing up in an era where the most successful English football team was the women!

This being a busy period of competitions, I actually left the garden party and went straight to London Heathrow to catch a flight to Barcelona for the next tennis tournament, the Tram Barcelona Open. We are currently deep into the clay court season and coming off the back of our World Team Cup in Turkey where I was proud to lead the women’s British team, helping to secure a 5th place finish and guaranteed qualification into next years event.

I was in pretty good spirits when I boarded the plane after the Palace garden party and headed to Barcelona. But it was only at the other end of the flight and after landing that I realised my tennis wheelchair hadn’t joined me in Catalonia. Although I’d arranged the flight through British Airways, it was Vueling who were handling everything – or rather mishandling things in this instance. 

If they couldn’t get my wheelchair over to Barcelona pretty sharpish, then I wouldn’t be able to play. I’d be left there as a tourist – and that was definitely not the reason I had come. The hours passed…and still there was nothing. 

I’d paid for my coach to come to this event too, which made the situation even more stressful because of the extra financial outlay. I couldn’t just use someone else’s wheelchair for my match, either. The more profound nature of my disability means no one else’s chair is really suitable for me. I wouldn’t be able to achieve the same balance – and could end up with pressure marks.  

If my chair didn’t arrive soon, I was going to have to forfeit my opening match – and therefore my place in the singles tournament at the very least. 

My chair has an airtag on it, so I could track it being moved around Heathrow – but maddeningly not onto the next plane.  

Travel for disabled athletes can be frustrating at the best of times and this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. While there have been definite improvements in aviation for disabled passengers, simple things do still sometimes go wrong – and leaving behind my tennis wheelchair is a very frustrating occurrence.

It was 2am on the (Thursday) morning of my singles match when my wheelchair finally landed in Barcelona. Unfortunately I went on to lose that singles contest, but then went on a rollercoaster run with my doubles partner from the Netherlands, Aniek van Koot.

We beat Angelica Bernal and Pauline Deroulede to reach the semi-finals. But that’s where we found ourselves 4-9 down in the match tie-break to Chinese pairing Xiaohui Li and Zhenzhen Zhu. Unless we saved five match points, that was it.

Somehow we managed to come all the way back to win the match 4-6, 6-4, 11-9 – and we were in the final! It was a pretty exciting tie breaker and I always enjoy fighting on court with Aniek.

Sadly we weren’t able to produce our best tennis in the final, losing to Yui Kamiji and Kgothatso Montjane 0-6, 3-6. Congratulations to them, they played really well in the final, but our run had certainly made the trip worthwhile, despite the tennis chair drama.

Roland Garros will be the next big challenge – and I’m very much looking forward to it. They’ve increased the draw size to sixteen, which is great. It doesn’t help you if you pull out the world number one in the first round of course – but let’s see.

Roland Garros will offer us the chance to play on the best clay courts in the world – and I hope to be able to enjoy that opportunity for as long as possible.

I’ll let you know how it all goes – and what fresh drama on and off the court I encounter!


Lucy x  

The wheelchair tennis tournaments take place in the second week of Wimbledon.

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