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NEC Wheelchair Masters delivering Paralympic legacy

The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals is not the only major tennis event to be held in London this November as the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters heads to Britain for the first time in the sport’s history.

The Olympic Park will host ITF’s official year-end wheelchair tennis singles championship featuring the top eight men, eight women and four quad players.

First staged in 1994, it was held in the Netherlands for 17 years before moving to Mechelen in Belgium in 2011. The competition was held in Mission Viejo in California last year.

In December 2012, just four months after the Paralympic Games in London, the Tennis Foundation was awarded the rights to host the end-of-season event at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre for three years.

Reopened in the spring after undergoing major transformation as part of the renovation of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the venue now features six outdoor tennis courts and four indoor courts as well as two hockey pitches.

“Eton Manor is the only venue that was ever purpose-built for a Paralympic sport,” explains Joanna Farquharson, Deputy Executive Director of the Tennis Foundation and managing director of the NEC Wheelchair Masters. “The All England Club said they could hold The Championships and the Olympics, but to host the Paralympics would just be too much, so they built a bespoke venue.

“After the Paralympics Eton Manor was turned into a hockey and tennis centre. The place where the main stadium court was is now a hockey pitch but now there are four indoor tennis courts in this amazing indoor centre, in what was the gathering centre for support staff at the Paralympics. That is where we are holding the event.”

Organised in conjunction with UK Sport and Sport England, the event not only offers a chance for British fans to see the world’s best wheelchair tennis players in action, but it is delivering the legacy of the 2012 Games. Tickets start from just £10. Each adult ticket comes with a free child’s ticket, while there are also £2 tickets available for local schools and community groups.

“We are using the event as an opportunity to bring as many school children as we can to come and have a look at the event,” says Farquharson. “We’re also encouraging community groups and specific disability groups to watch some tennis but also hopefully inspire them to carry on playing tennis at the venue afterwards.

“Sport England have very kindly agreed to provide us with some funding for this so we will have some inflatables for a kids’ zone like they have at Wimbledon. We have had at least 12 schools that have signed up and there is really quite a lot of interest around schools coming down and seeing this event.”

Farquharson believes that the event offers an opportunity for British brands to get involved in a global event.

“NEC [the title sponsor] has been involved in wheelchair tennis for a number of years and Uniqlo is involved in the ITF Tour, but in terms of British brands I don’t think they really understand what a good sport wheelchair tennis is,” she said. “We hope to use the event to help increase the profile of it so people do begin to show more interest in it and see if they want to partner tennis, and wheelchair tennis specifically.

“Businesses are more than welcome to get in touch with us and come down and see the event. We just want more people to come and see the event and see what we are talking about and begin to understand what wheelchair tennis is, and what it could be. This is a real opportunity.”

Tickets for the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters start at just £10 and can be purchased via the tournament website:www.wheelchairtennismasters.com.