People played tennis in wheelchairs before, but in 1976 the sport took off when Brad Parks hit a tennis ball from his wheelchair. The IWTF was formed in 1988, and more and more countries established wheelchair tennis programs. In 1991, the organization got a full time officer to promote its work. Its main purpose was to establish wheelchair tennis officially around the world. Word spread primarily through attendance at International Tennis Federation events, where member nations would hear about the work of the IWTF and ask if they could start a program in their country.
As the organization and sport grew, the IWTF realized that the biggest barrier to starting up a program in another country was the lack of equipment. Wheelchair tennis players started donating their old wheelchairs to developing countries to help start their programs.
Wheelchair tennis can be played on a regular tennis court, without changes to the rackets or balls. In wheelchair tennis rules, the player gets two bounces. The game can be played with able-bodied friends and family, which permits wheelchair tennis players to practice with anyone. The word spread of wheelchair tennis through "up-down" exhibitions, in which a wheelchair player teamed with an able-bodied partner. Exhibitions were staged around the world at major tennis events. Top tennis professionals helped promote the sport by participating in exhibitions.
The IWTF is part of the ITF. It presently has 58 member nations. The website has complete instructions as to how to become a member, and how to get a copy of the rules. Even if a player's country is not a member of IWTF, there may still be opportunities for play through the ITF or the Disabled Sports Association. The ITF e-mail address is email@example.com, for information about playing opportunities all over the world.
The IWTF suggests that wheelchair tennis can be played against any players. People can practice using their own rules, or using the official rule that the wheelchair player gets 2 bounces and the able-bodied player only 1 bounce. The ITF will help players find coaches with wheelchair experience, or will provide information for coaches without experience. It will help players join the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour. Although wheelchair tennis is often played in a special sports wheelchair, it can be played in a regular day wheelchair. The player may want to strap themselves in for more stability. Strapping at the waist, knees and ankles can help, depending on the player's balance. People can get information on tennis wheelchairs at www.invacare.com.
Players who are tetraplegics and quadriplegics can play tennis by strapping or taping the racket to their hand. The IWTF website gives information on this. Wheelchair tennis provides opportunities for both adults and juniors to learn the game, and to play competitive tennis in international tournaments. Wheelchair tennis is no longer a novelty, although it is just in its "young" stages as a sport and is growing everyday.
Wheelchair tennis has some strong international sponsors who have helped the sport grow. Invacare corporation, NEC, Heineken, and Camozzi are among the international sponsors who have.
The ITF publishes several publications that support the sport. It publishes a wheelchair tennis coaches' manual, an event organizational manual, the Wheelchair Tennis Coaches Review, a newsletter called "This Week", books and magazines for coaches and players. It also makes available the rules of the game on its website.
Tournaments this months are the New Zealand Open, the Sion Indoor, and The Taiwan Lion's Cup. See the ITF website for more tournaments.
Currently, the top three men are David Hall of Australia, Robin Ammerlaan of the Netherlands, and Kaj Schrameyer of Germany. The top three women are Esther Vergeer of Netherlands, Maaike Smit of Netherlands, and Sharon Walraven of Netherlands. Top three quad players or Mark Eccleston of Great Britain, Nicholas Taylor pf the USA, and David Wagner of the USA.
In the Players Choice Awards for 2002, the Florida Open , USA, was chosen as the Tournament of the Year. This award recognized the tournaments quality and it contributions to the development of wheelchair tennis at the national or international level. The Florida Open is held in Palm Beach, and is one of the largest wheelchair tennis tournaments in the world. Over 175 players competed in last year's event, with 363 matches. World number one players David Hall and Esther Vergeer were voted male and female player of the year in the Players Choice Awards, for their impact on the game. The player's fair play, and contribution to development of wheelchair tennis are taken into consideration in the voting.