Adaptive Standing Tennis is Confusing

Adaptive Standing Tennis is a modality of tennis for individuals with physical disability who play the sport of tennis standing, or ambulatory as opposed to their counterparts who play wheel chair tennis, playing tennis in a wheelchair. People who play adaptive standing tennis may have an amputation, cerebral palsy, limb difference, or hemiplegia. It is an unsanctioned category of tennis at the present time but it is gaining more interest and participation. You might even call it the next tennis boom in tennis.

Ivan Corretja of Spain
Ivan Corretja of Spain at the USA TAP OPEN in Houston, TX 2016
Photo Credit- Justin Tzou

At the present time if you have a physical disability and you would like to compete against others with similar disabilities professionally, in tennis grand-slams and in the summer Paralympics, you would have to play tennis in a wheelchair. Adaptive Standing Tennis is now giving players the choice to play ambulatory or in a wheelchair. Note: Adaptive Standing Tennis is an unsanctioned modality of tennis. WheelChair tennis is sanctioned. Wheelchair tennis has a rich history and is very entertaining to watch and fun to play. An able-bodied individual can even get into a wheelchair and play tennis with a wheelchair user who plays the sport. Everyone plays. The only difference is when playing wheelchair tennis you are allowed up to two bounces before striking the ball. However, a lot of wheelchair tennis players take the ball on only one bounce and have perfected a new poetic battle on the tennis court as was demonstrated at the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan shown live on NBC, NBCSN, ESPN, and the Olympic Channel. It can be difficult to find new players so this breakthrough in coverage of the sport can be seen as historic and will hopefully serve as a larger springboard to greater popularize and recruit new players world wide.

United States Women’s Wheelchair Tennis Coach Paul Walker giving instruction at Wounded Warriors Tennis Camp in San, Diego, CA 2018 at Balboa tennis club.

This organized category of tennis did not just happen overnight.

Adaptive standing tennis is confusing. Well, to 99.8% populous it probably is. To those whom have grown up with a physical disability or were impacted at a young age playing tennis ambulatory, well, it is still confusing, haha. Many people such as Roger Crawford, Marc Krajekian, Henry Cox, Carl Mower, Sandra Giorgetta, Nico Basaez, Tono Solano, Alex Hunt, Thalita Rodrigues, Jorge Castro, and Leonel Iknadiyosyan grew up playing tennis using a prosthesis or adapting to hold the tennis racquet a different way playing against able-bodied tennis players. Ivan Corretja, the brother of former ATP world singles No.2 Alex Corretja, plays tennis on a prosthesis. From what I have seen from players from all around the world he is probably the best lower extremity amputee tennis player in the world at present. I myself grew up playing tennis on a prosthetic leg as well. So when I am giving you my elevator pitch about Adaptive Standing Tennis and why people with physical disabilities can benefit from playing it you often get lost and do not understand which leads to more questions which leads to, “hey, I only have so much time in the day 😅.”

Veronica Vasquez of Houston, Texas setting up for a backhand at tennis practice.
Photo Credit – Justin Tzou

What we see we often easier understand and retain. It is why it is so important and meant so much to those fighting to have wheelchair tennis shown on live television on prime time channels during the 2021* Tokyo Paralympic Games. My doctors and local foodie spots I frequent even made comments about how incredible it was to watch! It was being marketed and shown as a sporting event, at its highest level. A sporting event.

When I first got back into tennis and was looking for an adaptive program I could play in I was very surprised to learn there were none really, anywhere. So I played with the wheelchair tennis team in Houston, only standing. SWAT

I started an amputee tennis class for the city of Houston with the help of USTA Texas. At the time in 2014 we called it Amputennis. We just had amputees in our program. We also invited the wheelchair tennis players to come out and hit with us as well and practice. In 2015 I traveled to compete in an International level tennis Tournament for amputees. When I got to the Tournament I was confused. Where is Amputennis? In Santiago, Chile where the Tournament was held they called it TAP. Tennis Adaptivo de Pie. Translated from Spanish to English as playing from the foot up, or Standing Adaptive Tennis. People who play adaptive standing tennis may have an amputation, cerebral palsy, limb difference, or hemiplegia . I played a few matches against guys that had all four limbs. My trainer made a comment about it not being fair. “The eye ball test”.

Cristian Contreras of Chile post match with friend Jeff Bourns. Contreras eliminated Bourns in the Quarterfinals at the Chile TAP Masters Final in 2015.

To an outsider who has little to no experience in adaptive sports, it is confusing. I was confused myself. I have experience in track and field and how persons in ParaSport are classified. I knew certain matches I played I was at a competitive disadvantage but the disabled opponent could say the same about me. You just exploit the disabled persons weakness. It sounds cruel. It shouldn’t. That is why I used the word disabled twice in back to back sentences. We are playing in a sporting event. Competition. Until shown as a sporting event and processed by the spectator as such these tournaments can bring on “feel good” feels.

Houston Adaptive Standing Tennis Program in 2015

Adaptive Standing Tennis is confusing. New elevator pitch. “Would you like to play tennis sometime?” By now, in large due to efforts from many around the world, those of us who play adaptive standing tennis have friends with similar disabilities that live nearby. Set up some dubs! “This is adaptive standing tennis” . I am no longer confused, but intrigued. Then you can drop in information about the modality and nine times out of ten people are very eager to assist, especially if something is relatively new and a challenge. That is why we compete.

We had a really solid program in Houston for about five years. It was hard to walk away from it and from playing tennis. I did not think it would be as hard as it has been. Japan has now done a great job and JASTA will continue to grow. I think in large a reason that they have been able to be successful is that they have created a governing body for themselves and do not have other parties or competing interests influencing them. They work together. They concentrate on Japan. It is part of adaptive standing tennis history.

Members of JASTA at the USA TAP OPEN in Houston, TX – December 2018 – representing Japan well.

Adaptive Standing Tennis is intriguing!

Who are you going to take out and show where to play? Who are you going to ask if they would like to come to your tennis club and play tennis? What wheelchair tennis program are you going to go and hit with?

This last one, on occasionally, you do run into people who ask you where your wheelchair is when you show up to a practice. It is all about attitude and you can simply reply, “I just wanted to come out and play some tennis,” and smile. Just an opinion, but I really think adaptive standing tennis players should learn the history of wheelchair tennis and try and work together as much as possible. We are all in the same community. We just get around differently.

It is going to take time for this modality to continue to grow. I think some are starting to understand that and I hope those who can, do, and continue to add to the number of players we have on our respected continents, in our countries, our states, and city’s.

For the participants. I know I have learned so much in which I did not even consider when I got back into tennis. I got to learn about cultural differences and how people perceive disability around the world. Both in sport and human interaction. Which has in one way, shape, or form been of value in times I least expected. We are also paving the way for the next generations coming up behind us. In growth, it is no different than having a child. You do all you can to make it better for them in the future.

With the Krajekian family at LifeTime Tennis and Fitness in Charlotte, NC. Marc is a young 👑 and hopefully a future leader!

Jeff Bourns