World Championship, Spain, May 2017 — Joe Geraghty reports.
At Mayfest 2016 a new sport, Blind/Vision Impaired Tennis was launched. Twelve months later, a team travelled to Alicante in Spain to represent Ireland in the 1st World Championships, organised by the International Blind Tennis Association.
Invented in Japan in 1984, the game is Ireland’s fastest growing VI sport. It is played on a realigned tennis court with special tennis balls that emit sound. Raised tactile lines are used as navigational markers to assist the players to recognise their position on the court. Players use their heightened sense of hearing and develop their spatial awareness to track and hit the Blind Tennis balls. Athletes are classified using Paralympic sight classifications: B1, B2 and B3. B1 players have no vision or no functional vision. B2 and B3 players have a small amount of useful sight within a reduced field of vision.
Ireland now has over thirty players in five groups in Dublin and Belfast following the successful collaboration between Vision Sports Ireland and Tennis Ireland. The sport, has benefited from significant funding from Sport Ireland and will shortly expand to centres in Sligo, Navan and Cork. We hope to make it available in as many centres as possible in Ireland.
The Irish Team
The team of eight players headed to Alicante on May 6th. for the first ever World Games. Each player was accompanied by a guide. After a week of competition the team arrived home with results they never dared to hope for: Willem Roode came 3rd in the B3 Class where he narrowly lost the semi-final to the eventual winner, Chris Bailey from Great Britain. Roode went on to win the 3rd place play-off against Australian opponent Adam Fayed. In addition Roode received widespread recognition for agreeing to play a match with Singaporean Ng Jesson against whom he had previously been granted a walkover. Roode, who had qualified for the semi-final, put this at risk by doing so. However, he won the match in a closely fought contest.
“What a week – what a tournament, what an experience! To come 3rd in the men’s B3 category was way beyond what I thought was possible. I know now that I can compete at this international level. A big thank you to our coaching team and the volunteer guides who came to the tournament this week” Willem said.
“Added to this achievement, David Nason and Roisin Dermody succeeded in reaching the quarter-finals in the main draw, while Oran O’Neill won and lost some epic and tense battles in his B1 campaign —- including playing against, and taking some games from, the overall tournament winner and world no 1! Also, Johnny McInerney from Thurles, the team´s youngest player, reached the final of the B2 consolation tournament.
David Nason said: “Winning my first official international competitive match was an incredible feeling, but the matches I lost, and the ones I watched, blew me away too. I want to be that good and can’t wait to get back training.”
“What a simply great week! Said Liam O’Donohoe of Tennis Ireland. “Performances on the courts, learning from playing at the highest level of Blind Tennis and a whole range of new contacts and relationships that have been built over the week.”
Sarah O´Donohoe, the team´s coach said: “We are incredibly proud of the team’s performance in Spain. They have worked extremely hard and acquitted themselves admirably in their first international tournament.”
The results from the international tournament will determine the sport´s first world rankings, but we already know that Ireland has the world´s number three ranked Men’s B3 player in Willem Roode, and two of our B2 players are in the top eight in the world.
International friendlies have been agreed with Britain, Germany and Poland, and other countries are also interested in developing a relationship with Ireland in the future.
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