UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters At Marguerite Tennis Pavilion

1._Marguerite_Tennis_Pavilion_Photo_ITFIt is likely a tremendous understatement, but learning to play tennis well is difficult. The sport has never been easy to master. It requires diligence, practice and competitive concentration. Intermixed with the progress that is being made there are “world champion” highs and “I am better than this” lows.

While it may be possible to imagine the experience, add in, doing it as a wheelchair tennis player at an International Tennis Federation tournament? Challenging, indeed.

The best competitors in the world will participate in the UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters Championships taking place at the Marguerite Tennis Pavilion, in Mission Viejo, November 5-9. Men’s play features eight elite teams. There will be six teams in the Women’s draw, and four top Quadriplegic (Quad) doubles duos on the courts.

Steve Bell, the city’s Community Services Manager, and Jason Harnett, who is responsible for organizing Mission Viejo’s tennis efforts, have been in the forefront of preparations for the premiere event. After hosting the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters Championships, which was the first time the tournament had been staged in the US, Bell and Harnett are well aware of the need to live up to the impressive standard that was established in 2013. They now feel they have improved on the previously successful approach.

“Strictly, from a business standpoint, we focused more on taking the event to the people directly instead of utilizing the print media,” Bell said. “We developed relationships with the UNIQLO stores in Los Angeles and Orange County as well as the PGA store in Orange County. Although the event is free through the finals on Sunday, we printed complimentary tickets that those stores are placing in shopper’s bags when they make a purchase.

“We have also utilized partnerships in Mission Viejo to do this. As a result, we have given out 17,000 tickets. We’ll see how this pans out in attendance, but we think it will have more of an impact than last year’s strategy at about 5% of the cost.”

Harnett added, “Everything Steve said is spot on.  We took a little different approach marketing wise and not only is it cost effective, but the word on the street is strong.  I think because of the quality of the event being as high as it was, both players and patrons have expressed their excitement by coming back as competitors and spectators.  We have changed the site plan some to be a little more efficient with the space available at the Marguerite Tennis Pavilion.”

One of the realities in today’s sports world is an event must be multifaceted when it comes to attracting a sizeable audience. “We will have two Up/Down Exhibitions during the week, one on Friday evening involving two members of the University of California-Irvine men’s tennis team with World No. 1 Quad player, David Wagner, and his partner and fellow three-time Paralympic Gold Medalist and Seven-Time Doubles Masters Champion, Nick Taylor (all with Wagner),” Harnett said. “Saturday night will also have a similar exhibition involving local Mission Viejo resident and International Tennis Hall of Fame Member, Michael Chang and the US Men’s No. 1 wheelchair player, Stephen Welch and others to be announced.  These exhibitions involve an able-bodied player teaming up with a wheelchair athlete for a game of doubles.  They are designed to showcase the integrative qualities of wheelchair tennis and how it is, probably, the best [that exists] within disabled sports.  Following the exhibition on Saturday night, there will be a short ceremony honoring some legendary players and supporters of wheelchair tennis.  Brad Parks (founder of wheelchair tennis), Chang, Roy Emerson, Dennis Ralston and Bob Lutz have all committed.  Vic Braden will also be recognized posthumously. They are all International Tennis Hall of Fame Members (except for Lutz who has been a multi-time nominee and Braden, who is surely on his way). But, because he is coaching Kei Nishikori, who could possible qualify for the year-end ATP Championships in London, Chang may have to withdraw.”

Along with the exhibitions and the matches, which will feature almost fitness defying resilience and ingenious shot-making savvy, there will be more. “We also have a Family Fun Day theme on Saturday involving bouncy houses, face-painting and a free clinic sponsored by Babolat,” Harnett noted. “The clinic will be held from 3:00-4:30 p.m. It is free and open to anyone, whether they are in a wheelchair or not. There will be demo racquets to try, and a hit for prizes taking place. It should be fun for everyone.”

The 2013 effort has left a distinct impression as Bell brought out. “Last year, many of the players commented that it was the best run event they had ever participated in,” he said. “They are excited to be coming back. They know what kind of class event Mission Viejo runs.”

Harnett concluded saying, “Besides the world class tennis, there will be a few other fun events that should solidify this tournament as truly one of the finest in the world. As Steve said, we received compliments from players and coaches (tough critics!) about the quality of the event possibly being the best in the world.  Quite a compliment considering last year was our first year hosting a World Championship, essentially, at a brand new facility, (the Marguerite Tennis Pavilion).”

For more information about the UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters Championships, visit www.itfwheelchairmasters.com

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark Thoughts”

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