Tennis: Wheelchair warriors of a 'different' Tennis

1 April 2019 - 38   - 0

Sri Lanka's nearly 3-decade 'civil war' killed many soldiers, while a large number ended up injured and disabled. 

It has been a decade since the war has ended and it is incredible to see how they overcame the trauma of the war and are now preparing to write a new chapter in the history of Sri Lanka Tennis. 

Since 2002, when Wheelchair (WC) Tennis was introduced to Sri Lanka, the WC Tennis team has made the nation proud on numerous occasions. 

At present there are 16 players representing Sri Lanka and all of them have world rankings. 

"We started 17 years ago, when the International Tennis Federation (ITF) wanted us to have a WC Tennis team. So we informed the Sri Lanka Army that we are willing to accommodate disabled soldiers as part of it. We started a programme to prepare them on how to play WC Tennis," their coach Jagath Welikala recalled. 

WC Tennis is very different from the normal Tennis we know. 

They use specially designed wheelchairs and there is a training programme for the coaches. 

However, the rules are the same, except for the fact that the ball is allowed to bounce up to twice, with the second bounce allowed outside the court. 

"I learned all the special techniques and the rules of the game from the Netherlands," the coach said. 

The Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) provides all the facilities and extended support when needed. Furthermore, Welikala stated that the Sports Ministry also helps them to take this Sport forward. 

Despite all the hard work that is put in to promote WC Tennis, there are questions on the future of the sport that need to be answered. 

Who will replace these players when they finally decide to call it a day? 

"The concern is that, in the future, there will be a problem when players decide to retire. Then we have to look at the differently-abled community in Sri Lanka. People are reluctant to give a chance for the differently-abled individuals to express themselves on the world stage. We need to change that attitude, otherwise the future of WC Tennis will lose its well earned glory," warned Welikala. 

To claim such pride, the Sri Lanka WC Tennis team won the BNP Paribas World Team Cup Qualifying Round held recently in Malaysia, remaining unbeaten throughout the tournament. 

Gamini Dissanayake, Lasantha Suresh Ranaweera and Suresh Ranjan Dharmasena, who were successful in Malaysia, will represent Sri Lanka at the World Team Cup to be held in Israel later this year. 

Over the years, Sri Lanka have beaten regional rivals such as Malaysia, Singapore and Croatia. Last year Sri Lanka won Bronze at the Asian Games in Jakarta. 

"I would like to thank our President Iqbal Bin Issack and WC Tennis Chairman Brigadier Shiran Abesekara for helping us achieve this much in such a short period. WC Tennis is not a popular sport in Sri Lanka, but we are proud of our achievements and hope it would change how others in Sri Lanka see us," opined Welikala. 

He urged the public to support and appreciate his team’s achievements, as the Sri Lanka WC Tennis team aims to win a medal at the Paralympics in Tokyo next year.    

"Our aim is to be one of the best teams in WC Tennis. We have worked hard and now we are reaping the rewards today. If this success is maintained, I'm sure we can achieve more," stated a hopeful Welikala.

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