Wheelchair tennis draws competitors from Canada, Mexico
The smell of burnt rubber filled the air Friday at Johnson Ranch Racquet Club.
Athletes changed direction at a swift pace, vigorous arm motions propelling them cross-court for an exciting competition.
Johnson Ranch acted as host for the International Tennis Federation Futures Series Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, where disabled athletes proved that a lack of motion in their lower bodies couldn’t stop them from competing in a sport they love.
“It gives people a chance to get out, exercise and feel good about themselves despite being disabled,” tournament director John Byrn said. “Meet new people and meet new friends. And a lot of people know each other from over the years.”
The three-day event was sanctioned by the ITF and United States Tennis Association. Players of all levels, from recreational to those possessing elite world ranking, took to the courts.
The tournament was in its ninth year at Johnson Ranch but has been in existence since 1952. Thirty-six athletes from the United States, Canada and Mexico participated in the event.
“All of our players are on the Internet. There’s a big list of wheelchair tennis players,” Byrn said. “These competitors get word of competitions worldwide. It’s an ongoing sport, and people play throughout the year when the weather is good. Many people have been playing for many years. And we’re always getting new players.”
Champions were crowned Sunday. The headlining match was the men’s singles final between Anthony Anderson of Seattle, Wash., and Canadian Joel Dembe. The two had met three times already this year, creating what Dembe called a “competitive rivalry.” Dembe took home the victory 6-3, 6-4.
“He’d always figured me out,” said Dembe, who ranks in the top 45 in the world. “Last year, he would always beat me. But this year, I’ve been playing way more, and I anticipated his shots better this time. I stayed aggressive when I needed to be, and stayed focused on the point.”
Dembe dominate the first set and took a 4-0 lead in the second set before Anderson battled back and broke Dembe’s serve. Ultimately, Dembe’s superior range outlasted Anderson, who depended more on a power game.
“My serve really let me down,” Dembe said. “The last time I played him, I didn’t get broken very often, but this time we kept breaking each other. Both of us were a little tight on our serves. And we’ve been playing a lot, so our energy levels were off.”
Emmy Kaiser was the women’s singles championship, defeating Katherine Stutiville 6-1, 6-0. They also teamed up to claim the women’s doubles title.
Dembe and Philippe Bedard were the champions in men’s doubles.
The Sacramento Capitals Wheelchair Tennis Association sponsors many of the athletes. This association was founded in 2003 and continues to produce players that achieve national and world rankings.