Almanac Wheelchair Tennis: Competition half a world away from tragedy

I’ve been playing Wheelchair Tennis since the age of seven and it has taken me all around the globe. I was a part of the Australian Wheelchair Tennis Junior team from 2008 to 2011, where we won three medals at the ITF World Team Cup. A Silver medal in 2009 was followed by a Bronze in 2010 and 2011. Since 2011 I’ve been competing on the world tour as a senior, and am currently ranked 69th in the world and 4th in Australia. Playing Wheelchair Tennis has had huge benefits on my quality of life. It’s allowed me to compete in 14 countries, represent Australia in world championships, gaining friends for life and keeping me fit and healthy. It’s a shame there aren’t more people with disabilities playing the sport within Australia, considering the benefits it can provide.

Last year I was en route to Malaysia and Taiwan for two events, one in Kuala Lumpur and one the following week in Taipei. As a frustrated Crows supporter, I was stunned to see Sando got the sack once I arrived at our hotel in Malaysia. The Crows have for years been synonymous with mediocrity, always around the mark but never really close to a flag. The 2014 season were almost as bad as you can get from a supporters perspective. Brilliance one week, mediocre the next. Not bad enough to pick high in the draft, not good enough to contend. No man’s land. The fans were disgruntled but it was surprising the board were so ruthless in their decision. It was great to see mediocrity wasn’t going to be accepted.

The appointment of Phil Walsh had the 19th man buzzing. A man with over 25 years of coaching experience. Elite standards demanded. Team first approach. Looking to build the best football program in the league. Authenticity would trump spin. It was all the buzzwords you’d like to hear as a supporter. This was coupled with a new CEO in Andrew Fagan and Tex Walker appointed as skipper, and change had officially arrived at West Lakes.

2015 started off with a bang with extremely impressive performances against North Melbourne and Collingwood. The Crows haven’t been able to maintain this level, but progress was being made. This was a journey that Walsh set and was going to guide us for the foreseeable future.

Recently I competed at two ITF tournaments in South Africa. It was a good opportunity to get some wins on the board, rise up the rankings and potentially challenge some strong players ranked inside the top 60.

In the first tournament held in Pretoria, I managed to win my first two matches 6-0, 6-0. I would be up against the number 1 seed Leon Els from South Africa in the quarter finals.

I lost my quarter-final 6-1, 6-4; my overall play was reasonable but my serve really let me down. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my serve before I arrived in South Africa and it translated into this match. I was able to break his serve four times so I left the court knowing I can compete and give my self a shot at winning if my serve is more consistent and threatening. Leon ended up taking out the final against fellow Aussie Keegan Oh-Chee 6-3, 6-3.

Between the first and second tournament we attended a nature park. It was a great experience seeing a whole host of different animals including Lions, Cheetahs, Zebras, Ostriches and Antelopes. The most enjoyable aspect was seeing the younger animals, where we were able to play with the baby lions. They had no hesitation in licking and cuddling you like cute little pussycats!

The following morning I woke up at around 1:40am wondering what the time was. I hadn’t set an alarm yet and we didn’t have a bedside light, so after about 20 odd minutes I decided to get up and take my phone off the charger. I notice an odd notification from FB regarding a recent post on the Crows Pride Facebook page.

I then log into the Big Footy forum and the first thread I read is titled “Phil Walsh RIP”. When it’s 2am and you’re half asleep it’s difficult to process those words immediately. Should I already know this, what the hell has happened? Quickly go to Twitter and your heart very slowly starts to breaks. The man that seemed destined to lead us to success has been murdered. A sense of utter devastation is coupled with having no idea how I’m going to prepare myself for today’s play. At this point I’m pretty shattered but also consumed with finding out more and wanting to read reactions from fellow supporters. My roommate sees me on the phone, and I know I have to tell him. He doesn’t follow AFL all that much but he knows my passion for the Crows. I take a few deep breaths before I utter the words “The Crows coach was murdered last night”. One of the hardest sentences I’ve ever had to say.

I attempt to go back to sleep at about 2:45am but don’t really have any luck until 3:30am, wake up again 4:15 then get one final sleep around 4:40 and get up at 5:30am.

With such a disjointed sleep and mentally deflated from the news, I had to get myself up for a long day of tennis. I was extremely lethargic in my first match but thankfully my opponent was fairly weak, winning 6-1, 6-0.

My 2nd round match was going to be a much tougher affair. I had played my 2nd round opponent in doubles the previous week so I knew what to expect.

Once again my serve was shaky early on in the match, unable to hold until the 7th game of the opening set. I had no such issues on return, breaking serve on every occasion after the first game. From 4-2 down, I was able to win the first set 7-5. My serve became far more reliable, I was able to attack off both wings and hit plenty of winners.

I just couldn’t get my game going in the 2nd set, especially on my forehand where I was really struggling to hit through the ball. After a fairly disastrous 0-6 set I decided to take a toilet break just to refresh and get my mind back on the job. I knew I had the capability to do it, and I was desperate to win for a number of reasons. To emulate Walshy’s philosophies, to give myself another shot at beating the number 1 seed in the quarters, and to demonstrate that I can rebound after some poor play.

I wasn’t playing my absolute best in the final set, but by hanging tough I was able to pull through 7-5 after failing to close it out at 5-3. After the morning I had it was a great relief to get the win. I was pretty knackered afterwards so it was great to get some proper sleep.

It’s not often you get a chance to avenge a frustrating loss against the same opponent five days later. I knew where I went wrong previously against Leon, and was aware that if I was able to give myself a better opportunity at holding serve, I could take him out.

Once again I had very little confidence in my serve early in the match, and struggled to really put him under pressure on return. While I started to get some consistency on serve, it wasn’t looking good at 6-1, 2-0 down. With my return now enabling me to get on top of the rally, and consistency returning to my serve, I was able to get back into the match. From 2-0 down I went 5-3 up in the 2nd set. Some nerves and trying to over play resulted in me being knocked out in the 2nd set tiebreaker.

It was pleasing that when I played my best tennis I was able to take it right up to best player in the tournament. In the end Leon won the final once against Keegan 6-0, 6-3. There was only one other player that took a set of Leon in the two tournaments, so I think my performances stack up with the rest of the field. Being seeded in the top 4 would have made it a bit easier in attempting to make the semis or the final.

It was one of the most physically and emotionally draining trips I’ve ever been on. After discovering the news about Phil Walsh, I fell ill suffering some diarrhoea, hot and cold spells and lethargy. During some of my doubles matches in the 2nd week I almost fell asleep on court I felt that flat and tired. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence that the illness coincided with discovering the news of Walsh’s death, but it definitely made it draining both on and off the court. On the court I had to deal with some mental demons regarding my serve. When you enter a tournament low on confidence on a particular skill it is really difficult to regain it fully within the short time frame we have to work in. When you’re in footy supporter mode you can forget this but I can really sympathise with the players who end up getting the yips in front of goals!

On return to Australia I made my way to AAMI Stadium to check out the Phil Walsh shrine. I had to be there to witness it considering I was unable to pay my respects while I was away. Seeing the club rebound since the tragedy both on and off the field has been really uplifting and made me proud to support the club that I love. The West Coast game was highly emotional. The Showdown victory euphoric. Getting the job done against the Suns was all that mattered on Saturday. But ultimately it’s about continuing the journey towards a premiership that Walsh set back in October 2014. Scott Camporeale has done admirably in extraordinary circumstances so far, getting the players back on the horse and sticking to Walshy’s vision.

As Andrew Fagan said on that tragic day, “The legacy Phil Walsh left will never be lost. It’ll be remembered forever”.

Whoever the new coach is will need to continue on the course set in October 2014, but add their own personal touch to the football department and playing group. It won’t be an easy task.

About Henry de Cure

Crows member, avid user of twitter, Australian Wheelchair Tennis player. Studying Journalism (2nd year) at the University of South Australia.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Ripper Henry, you should report back here regularly. I am sure that many of us would be interested in your progress and the Wheelchair Tennis circuit in general.

  2. Dave Brown says:

    Agreed, Swish. Thanks Henry, good read!

  3. Mickey Randall says:

    Welcome back Henry. Nice job. I look forward to discussions on these topics and more within the cosy confines of Glenelg Oval!

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