On a stifling afternoon on Wednesday Jayant Mistry wheeled his way to the Ranade Tennis Centre at the Maharashtra State Tennis Association Complex at Cooperage, removed his jaipur foot by the side of the net, made himself comfortable on a custom made wheelchair for tennis and hit a few shots, picking some of them on the first bounce and some after the second.

His partner was Stuart Wilkinson coach of Peter Norfolk (Gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics) and also coach of the current World No. 1 men’s singles wheelchair player from Japan, Shingo Kunieda. For ten minutes the Leicestershire-born Mistry gave proof of his capacity and skills that for a period of 20 years saw him win 353 singles and 343 doubles matches. He has competed in the Paralympics for Great Britain, won titles on the NEC World Wheelchair Tour and has won the Wimbledon and Masters doubles titles.

Two years ago, the 43 year old decided that his time was up and opted to promote wheelchair tennis in India. He is the International Tennis Federations Player Ambassador for wheelchair tennis. On his third visit to India to establish the ITF promoted Silver Fund Project that encourages disabled people to play wheelchair tennis, especially at the grass roots level, Mistry said wheelchair tennis can be played not only to compete, but also to rehabilitate oneself and as a recreation.

Mistry said his attempting to make a small beginning in India. He will be in New Delhi up to the weekend and thereafter will be in Chennai on Tuesday (October 20). ``Small things can become big. It’s been a long journey for me. I played for twenty years and now travel to different parts of the world to establish the Silver Fund (sponsored by NEC and Cruyff Foundation) Project. Over 10,000 wheelchair bound players across the world compete in 140 odd events, including the four Grand Slam events, NEC Tour and Masters. The Silver Fund Project is in 20 countries. The Sri Lankan army has taken it in a big way for rehabilitation and recreation.

According to AITA coach Nar Singh, Chennai has around 15 wheelchair tennis players, New Delhi around a dozen and Mumbai about six. ``Educating coaches to coach wheelchair players is part of the AITA programme. The wheelchair used by Jayant costs between 2500 and 3000 pounds. But the Silver Fund Project has identified a factory in China to manufacture affordable wheelchairs. The AITA will be importing 40 wheelchairs, each costing around Rs. 20,000 and distribute it to the centres that need them, said Nar Singh.

Mistry said that it’s important to make available the dedicated wheelchairs in India. ``The emphasis will be to get local people playing at the regional level and then the national level. They can also compete in international competitions. A lot of emphasis will also be laid on educating coaches so as to empower them to be able to have the skill and knowledge to develop players.

The Wheelchair event at the US Open offers total prize money of $ 100,000, with the men’s single winner given $ 12,000 and the women’s singles winner, $ 7000. ``Almost all the wheelchair events have prize money. The plan from next year is to standardise the prize money for all Grand Slam events and it would not be less that the US Open, said Wilkinson, who has been a tennis coach for 14 years including dealing with wheelchair tennis players in the last nine years.

``Now I coach only wheelchair tennis players. I have so many players to coach. I coach players who use electrical wheelchairs. There’s a player in USA who uses his foot to toss the ball. Players compete in men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles and Quads (loss of function in at least three limbs) singles and doubles.

Mistry is affected by polio and has one artificial foot, but defying all odds he has played two decades of wheelchair tennis. ``Next year New Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Olympics has been awarded to Rio. It’s around the big events we anticipate wheelchair tennis to grow, trailed off Mistry.

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