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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 July, 2005, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Wimbledon debut
By Elizabeth Hudson
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

British number one Jayant Mistry
Mistry helped make history at Wimbledon on Saturday
A murmur of anticipation rang around Court 14 on Saturday as four of the world's top wheelchair tennis players began their warm-up ahead of their doubles tournament semi-final.

It was a historic moment for the quartet, who were introduced by commentator John Barrett as they made their way onto court.

Although there have been exhibition games at Wimbledon over the past couple of years, this is the first competitive wheelchair tournament at the venue and the first grass-court tournament in the world.

For British number one Jayant Mistry, it was nothing new. He played in an exhibition match at SW19 three years ago and has been a regular spectator at the tournament in the past.

But it was a new experience for his French playing partner Michael Jeremiasz and their opponents Lahcen Majdi and Miroslav Brychta.

The rules are simple - the court, racket, balls and scoring system are all the same as the able-bodied game.

The only thing that is different is that the ball can bounce twice - although the first bounce must be within the court confines.

The keenly-contested doubles match also caught the eye of the spectators with many stopping by to watch all or some of the straight sets win for Mistry and Jeremiasz.

The two-bounce rule caused a bit of confusion for some, while others were concerned whether the tyres would damage the court.

But most were impressed with what they saw.

"I play tennis myself and I was surprised at how quickly they get around the court and how well they serve," said Dane Gitte-Maria Larsen, who lives in London.

"They are elite athletes and it must help the profile of the game to see it being played here."

Frenchman Michael Jeremiasz
They must have phenomenal muscles
Spectator Zita DiMeo

Wimbledon employee Dave Langley has watched the exhibition matches over the last couple of years and said he was delighted to see the inauguration of the tournament.

"It's good for the club and it is great to see these guys get to perform on the big stage. They have worked hard to get to this level but I would like to see the tournament held earlier in the fortnight," he said.

The DiMeo family from London were also spectators at Court 14 and were surprised by their first introduction to the game.

"I suppose it is really like two sports because they have to move in the chair and also be able to hit the ball. They must have phenomenal muscles," said mum Zita.

"I knew that people played wheelchair tennis but I had never seen it live before and it was a real eye-opener," said dad Dave while daughters Marissa and Briana were also impressed.

The overall level of support was hugely encouraging to Lynn Parker, the Disabilities Tennis Manager at the British Tennis Foundation who has worked hard on securing this event.

"We started having meetings earlier this year about the prospect of holding a tournament and the All-England club have been hugely supportive," she said.

"It is a top-class field and it was a huge coup for us to get the top singles and doubles players in the world (David Hall and Michael Jeremiasz).

"Although we have had the exhibition games in the past, this tournament means we are integrated into Wimbledon and the players have had the same facilities given to them as the likes of Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova have.

"We will have a review with the All-England Club after the event but we would hope to get this event included permanently on the wheelchair tennis calendar."




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