Pauline Déroulède, wheelchair tennis player: “Paris 2024 is my number one goal”

He has a frank look and communicative energy. At the age of 31, Pauline Déroulède has a goal: to take part in the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024.. The current French wheelchair tennis champion seems unstoppable, driven by the desire to shine on the courts and a strength emanating from her sunny personality.

The one who saw how her life changed drastically on October 27, 2018 – when a driver mowed her while waiting with her scooter in Paris and lost her left leg – tells us her hopes, her inspirations and his commitment to the rest of his career.

Marie Claire: You are now a French wheelchair tennis champion. How did you get into this sport?

Pauline Deroulede: Wheelchair tennis was obvious, because I’ve always played tennis. When I had my accident on October 27, 2018, I quickly told those around me – from the recovery room, to tell the truth – that I wanted to participate in the 2024 Paralympic Games. number 1. I.

Secondly, of course, I had to get used to the idea of ​​a new performance. Because I knew that tennis, in sports for the disabled, was played in a wheelchair. And it is true that it was not easy to tell me that the sport that I have always practiced standing, now I had to practice it in a wheelchair.

I had to talk to people, meet the right people, especially with Stéphane Houdet, who has the same disability as me and was a role model with whom I quickly identified. And after a screening program called La Relève, a few months after the accident, the French Tennis Federation saw me. Then it all happened pretty quickly: I learned what my coach was, and eight months later I started in a structure at the Yvelines, a high-level program. And in September it will be three years since I trained there.

You say it openly: your number one goal is the 2024 Paris Games …

Yes, of course, my goal is the Games. But in reality, there are other mini-goals until then. For example, this year I couldn’t, because it was a little early timing, but for next year, Roland-Garros is a goal. You should know that for wheelchair tennis it is more difficult to qualify for the Grand Slams than for the Olympics, because it is a field of only 8 players. Only the top 10 in the world participate in the Grand Slams, unless they have an invitation from the Federation. After the French championships, being able to keep my title is also a goal.

What do the Olympic and Paralympic Games mean to you, as an athlete, of course, but also as a spectator?

The Games have always been an extraordinary competition for me, as a spectator. Because it’s an appointment not to be missed, every four years. There really is an exceptional side to the event, with twists and turns.

And then, it’s the meeting point of all sports, whether you’re healthy or not, we’re all in competition. The day we found out that the 2024 edition would be held in Paris, I was driven by the idea of ​​being able to live it, as a Parisian, as a Frenchwoman …

And there, imagining living it as an athlete is something even crazier …

What are the criteria for participating in the Games?

To participate in the 2024 Games, in wheelchair tennis, you must be among the top 28 in the world, possibly the top 30, because there will be invitations. There are no competitions on their own, as can be the case with other sports.

There are other criteria, such as being part of the French national team, being in the top 30, having won at least one World Cup, and so on. In general, it is above all the ranking that is important.

Which athletes inspire you or make you dream?

It’s still cool yesterday, because I followed his crazy party (the interview took place on Monday, May 30, 2022, ed.) … For me, the eternal model of mentality and personality is Rafael Nadal. I really admire him: he puts a lot of intensity into all his matches, and that’s what I’m looking for.

In matches, moreover, I think a lot about him. Without comparing me it is clear, but to keep in mind that you have to stay mentally strong even in the most difficult times. And I think I share with him, the taste of struggle.

Then, among the other athletes, there is Stéphane Houdet, about whom I have already spoken a little. Now it’s an old story. Beyond being an immense champion, he had victories at the Paralympic Games, he was a world champion or number 1 in the world – he is someone who guided me and made me understand that I could make a career, which is calm. To use. me when I needed it. She is a role model for me.

You cite it as a source of inspiration: do you, like Rafael Nadal, have rituals during your matches?

I am far from having so many fakes or rituals. I know I need to ride a lot. For my overgrips, I have a particular way of putting it on, in the middle of the axis. I think it was Richard Gasquet who did the same … These are small milestones, rituals. But if I don’t do all this tomorrow, it might bother me, and again.

Mostly I do a lot of inner work, a lot of mental preparation. I got into a bubble before I played. I usually say “I put on my coat”. I turn into a party: I have a murderous look, a very closed face. It’s my way of concentrating fully.

What is your preparation for big competitions?

You should know that there are different periods. There are the so-called basics, where you do not go to competitions very regularly, it is usually winter and there are times when there is a lot of physical preparation, especially bodybuilding.

On the other hand, at this time, when I am often in competitions, we will mainly miss accurate shots, when we are on the ground. And in bodybuilding, we will especially be reactivated. The idea is not to make too much volume so as not to exhaust the body, but to prepare it so that it has the necessary energy in tournaments.

When it comes to mental preparation, I always do before / after matches, before / after competitions with my mental trainer. I entrust him with the state in which I feel, how I face things. It helps to break doubts or fears if there are …

We also do visualization exercises, we work on mental references that work … It is essential to have good mental endurance, to be able to play games while keeping our heads cool.

What do you think are the key qualities of being a top athlete? Are there any specifics when it comes to wheelchair tennis?

The words that come to me right away: she is determined, rigorous. Knowing how to make sacrifices too, because the higher level isn’t just about traveling and you generally don’t have a life next to it.

Strong also, literally and figuratively, in the body but also in the head. This is very important, whatever the sport.

And for wheelchair tennis, they are exactly the same. We have the same rules as valid tennis. We count the points in the same way, we play on the same pitches. The only difference is that you can let the ball bounce twice – it allows you more time to play the ball, but it also opens up more angles, more gameplay.

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