Wheelchair tennis players serve up some serious competition on Montreal's South Shore
Players discuss what drives them to compete at top level as tournament gets underway
It's been just over 10 years since 32-year-old Rob Shaw's diving accident left him partially paralyzed from the neck down and coming to terms with his injury wasn't easy.
"I had a lot of pent up resentment toward my injury in general — what it took away from me — and I couldn't really let that go. I couldn't separate who I was before my injury and who I am now," said Shaw, who is from North Bay, Ont.
But after plenty of hard work, he is now one of the top wheelchair tennis players in the men's singles quad (quadriplegic) category and he is among those competing on Montreal's South Shore this weekend.
He played tennis on two feet from age eight to 21, and then took up the racket again about eight years ago, adjusting to a slower version of the sport played from a specialized wheelchair with the racket taped to his hand to assist with grip.
He may not be able to move as quickly or hit the ball as hard as he used to, but he has revived his passion for the sport just the same — a passion, he explains, that didn't develop overnight, as he found himself frustrated by his limitations in the beginning.
His first attempt to compete was exhausting and he burned himself out.
So he took a break from competitive tennis to train in a more relaxed environment, playing for fun with friends and family while working not just on getting his body into shape, but his emotions as well.
"I needed that two-year break to sort of reset my mind and get myself in a better position to succeed," said Shaw.
"It took me a long time to get to that stage where I could be happy just being a good wheelchair tennis player and not a good standup player. They're two very different games with a lot of similarities, but you can't compare one to the other and I was doing that for way too long."
2 bounces allowed
Tournament director Marie Davies is overseeing the Tennis Canada event in Boucherville, Que. She said in wheelchair tennis, one of the big differences is that players are allowed two bounces before returning the ball, while able-bodied players get one bounce.
Otherwise, the game is played with the same rules on a traditional court.
She said this week's tournament was slated to be held outdoors in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., about 40 kilometres east of Boucherville.
But with all the recent rain, the event was moved to an indoor facility, Sani Sport, for much of the event. The hope is to return to the clay outdoor courts by Sunday if they are dry enough by then.
The tournament welcomes 31 players from all over the globe, and once this event wraps up on Sunday, many of them will head off to compete in another ITF Futures wheelchair tennis tournament in Canada before heading out to other events worldwide.
Wishing for more Canadian programs
Thomas Venos will be among players heading out for competitions with hopes of bumping up his ranking. He was a soccer and baseball player before his injury in 2015, and then discovered tennis while in rehab.
Now the sport plays a central role in his life.
The 23-year-old is from New Westminster, B.C. He said he attends the University of Alabama in the United States and trains year round.
He said there are no schools with adaptive tennis programs in Canada, though he would attend a school here if there was.
"If they had a program in Canada, I would go to one of those, because it's a lot cheaper for sure," said Venos. "I think a lot of people would take advantage of that."
with files from Rowan Kennedy