The operation “Everyone in a wheelchair” took place this Friday, June 3, at Roland-Garros. Since 2014, the French Tennis Federation has been offering this activity to the general public to discover and promote wheelchair tennis. Thus, the spectators were invited to come and hit the ball, in a sports wheelchair, from 10 to 20 h at the track n ° 9.
On the day of the “all in wheelchair”, Alexander Zverev would have preferred to avoid it, he who came out injured in his semifinal against Rafael Nadal and had to leave the track in a wheelchair.
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Prior to this semifinal, other wheels had rolled over the clay of the central track. The Frenchmen Stéphane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer, who played their doubles semi-final. The first for a wheelchair tennis match. “The choice was made very quickly, says Amélie Mauresmo, new director of Roland-Garros. We wanted to offer matches of wheelchair on the big tracks. It’s super interesting, especially considering the 2024 Paralympic Games. »
“It simply came to our notice then. rejoices Stéphane Houdet, triple Olympic champion in singles (Beijing 2008, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020). It had been under construction for some time. The challenge was not just to make us play, but to bring people. We already played at the last minute on the huge Arthur-Ashe track in New York because it was raining. It was closed to spectators. What’s really magical is having the track open to the public, as for training during qualifying. Anyone with any tickets could come and see us. What was great was that there was a festive atmosphere with an applauding audience. We felt support, it was a party and it did us great. »
The audience was sparse in this huge 15,000-seat stadium, but present. And if the French duo lost (7-6, 6-1 against the Argentine Fernandez and the Japanese Kunieda), they lived a moment “magic” : “Some partners had made sure to bring guests, so there were crowds in certain places, explains Stéphane Houdet. Our boxes were full, our entourage was present. I had my wife and a lot of friends, it was magical. »
The 2024 Paralympic Games in sight
The two Habs are not impressed with the event. “For many players, it can be a trap. Luckily, with Nicolas, we have already met on central tracks, probably not in Paris but with the public and situations where we knew there would be strong emotions. I don’t think there’s a moment of paralysis as I enter the center court. You have to find your way. The middle has a lot of counterattacks but very little side kick, so all in all, for wheelchair tennis players, the court is not that big. It was great to be there, we are thrilled to have been involved in the story. »
In this way, Stéphane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer were able to leave their mark. In two years’ time, they will return to this track with very good medal chances at the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games. “We need to identify the places, the bounces, the track, supports Houdet. One day I played on the central court in Beijing, and it’s simple, but it was a network of singles, with no doubles. It takes two or three games to orient yourself. A surface that has been used less, balls that go faster, small details like these force us to be vigilant. »
“Maybe I’ll play with the little horses with Rafa”
This Saturday morning (11am) another match will be scheduled at the Chatrier: the women’s doubles final between the Dutch pair De Groot – Van Koot and the Japanese and South African pair Kamiji – Montjane. So, if you want to discover this discipline and participate in the emergence of wheelchair tennis, you do not need a ticket for the women’s singles final that will be played later. You are all invited. “We are working to try to have a table in all the 1000 Masters, the Olympic champion smiled again. It makes us dream of playing in these stadiums, of sharing locker rooms with all these big names in tennis, of participating a little in this great family, in any case having the impression. Maybe I’ll play the game with Rafa (laughs)! »