(June 18, 2015) LONDON, England -The best match of the day at Queen’s Club on Thursday featured four top-20 players, who offered up a display of strength and net play in front of a wildly appreciative audience. This was the wheelchair tennis match between two British pairs, Alfie Hewett and David Phillipson versus Marc McCarroll and Gordon Reid. On Centre Court next door, John Isner and Feliciano Lopez were hitting serve after serve in their three-tiebreak match; on this court you saw lobs, volleys, and a backhand flick shot played with a forehand grip that is a recent addition to the wheelchair game but considered a necessity for top-class play. McConnell and Reid won by a hair in a champions’ tiebreak: 6-7, 6-2, 10-8.
The hardest thing about the wheelchair game, they collectively explained afterwards in a couple of hastily grabbed minutes, is the combination of movement and positioning shots. “You can’t adjust at the last minute”. Anticipation may be the key weapon in this game, because if you guess wrong you have little chance of being able to correct the mistake. Like their counterparts on the main tour, these guys train five days a week, partly on-court tennis skills, but a lot of time in the gym strengthening their shoulders. The pressure on shoulders and wrists is especially severe, because all their movements are forward, both hitting and pushing the wheelchair forward.
Also like their counterparts on the main tour, they travel to as many tournaments with the same costs – or even more, since many airlines charge extra for wheelchairs, and each of them has two: the one they use in daily life and their playing chair. Plus all the other stuff: racquet bags, clothes, shoes. And far fewer sponsors. These four thanked UK Sport and the tennis foundation for their sponsorship.
Main tour players have special grass shoes; wheelchair players don’t have special wheels, but some do lower the pressure in their tires so the wheels are softer on clay and don’t dig into the grass. On hard courts, upping the pressure means rolling faster.
That these players were here at all had to do with the fact that when the tournament switched tiers from ATP 250 to ATP 500 it shrank its draw from 56 to 32. With many singles players also playing doubles, the organizers wound up with big gaps on Court 1; they’re reviewing this for next year.
Meanwhile, the rest of the day was routine. Isner finally won by a couple of points. Gilles Muller downed defending champion Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 7-6. Andy Murray routined Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-4, and said afterwards that he thought his performance was “fine”. Asked about the big servers – Milos Raonic, Isner – coming through, he suggested the dry weather may be making the courts a little faster earlier in the tournament than usual. Murray also demonstrated nicely the difference between being a fan and being a player. While admitting that he didn’t enjoy watching serving contests as much as rallies, asked what shot of another player’s he would most like to have, he picked Isner’s serve. “It makes the game a whole lot easier when you can serve like that.”
Viktor Troicki knocked out 2012 champion and fourth seed Marin Cilic 6-7 (8), 6-2, 6-3.