“Ready? Play.” Usually these words are spoken by an umpire. But in Blind and Low Vision Tennis, it’s the server letting the receiver know they are about to serve.
Featuring players from around Australia, the inaugural 2022 Australian Blind and Low Vision Championships was a three-day event at the National Tennis Centre in Melbourne Park.
Often abbreviated to BLV, this version of tennis originated in Japan. Players compete against opponents with a similar degree of visual impairment, in categories from B1 (most impairment) to B4 (least impairment). The court dimensions and net height are adjusted accordingly and the balls are larger and sometimes contain a bell.
The scoring system is basically the same as regular tennis though some rules are modified.
New South Wales Inclusion Tennis Coach at Tennis Australia, Steve Manley, recalls that BLV tennis and wheelchair tennis both started about 40 years ago.
As a junior player, he attended the Newcombe/Roche tennis camp and saw wheelchair tennis as a demonstration sport. He acknowledges that wheelchair tennis is better known than its BLW equivalent due to its greater exposure as a USA-invented sport.
No doubt wheelchair tennis also benefits from its status as an event in Grand Slams. But BLV tennis is making progress with an increasing number of players and tournaments.
On day two of the Championships, Manley stands behind the court watching one of his protégés, 19 year old Courtney Webeck from Gloucester.
“She’s a remarkable story,” he says. “She’s an athlete and taught herself tennis during Covid restrictions.
“I’ve lined her up with a local coach and she’ll be invited to our camp.”
Her opponent is Summer Giddings, also an athlete from New South Wales. Giddings was accompanied to the tournament by her guide dog Lassie who sits watching her play.
Adam Sayad is at the tournament doubling up as a player and as Australian representative on the International Blind Tennis Association. He started playing at eight before stopping at 12 due to deteriorating central vision caused by Stargardt’s Disease.
For the last 12 years, he’s been playing tennis again through the BLW program.
“We started the program with five players, all from Victoria. Now there’s 37 players in this tournament and we’ve got 75 players around Australia,” he says.
“And for the last five years we’ve been playing on the international level.”
Sayad ended up winning the B3 Open Doubles with Ross Patterson, while Courtney Webeck won the B2 Open Women’s Singles.
Title photo of Courtney Webeck by Vanessa Taylor