By Andrew Mitchell
With the 2008 Paralympic Games just 18 months away, the 2006 Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championship was an audition of sorts for dozens of the top players from across the country.
Held at the Whistler Racquet Club last week, the event also gave the community an opportunity to gauge its overall accessibility, and to start to plug any gaps that emerge between now and the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
The event was a success on both fronts, with several players gaining the attention of national coaches and the players themselves giving Whistler top marks for accessibility — issues with the snow and cold not withstanding.
The games took place over four days, starting with the round robin matches on Thursday and finishing with the finals on Sunday. There were six divisions up for grabs — men’s open, women’s open, men’s open doubles, women’s open doubles, and quad open singles and doubles.
The biggest upset of the weekend was in the men’s doubles competition when fourth-ranked Claude Brunet topped Yann Mathieu, the 2005 national champion, in the semi-finals, losing the first game 3-6, then winning the next two 6-2 and 6-2. He then went on to face number three-ranked Christoph Trachsel in the finals and won 7-6, 6-4 to claim the title.
On the women’s side, Yuka Chokyu of Vancouver easily defended her national title, beating Quebec’s Helene Simard in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2.
It was a similar story in doubles tennis. Brunet and Trachsel, now ranked first and second in singles tennis and the reigning doubles champions, were unable to beat the pairing of Corey Blatchford and Phil Rowe, who were ranked second coming into the championships. Blatchford and Rowe went on to win 6-2, 6-2 in a game that was defined by its long rallies.
Meanwhile Yuka Chokyu and teammate Helene Simard reclaimed the doubles titles, defeating Annie Morissette and Cyndy McLean in the finals 6-2, 6-2.
In the quad wheelchair open singles competition Sarah Hunter defeated Adrian Dieleman for the title. Dieleman and Hunter then teamed up to win the doubles event over Ken Bartel and Alexis Chicoine, 6-0, 6-0.
This year, thanks to contributions from the Birmingham Family, the winners of each category received cash prizes from a total purse of $15,000, as well as glass statues presented by Tennis Canada.
According to Severine Tamberero, the head coach for the national disabled team, the championships gave a chance for up and coming players to show their skills.
“I think it was good, there was a lot of depth in the men’s side, and we have a new champion in Claude Brunet. Corey Blatchford is a member of our development side, and he’s definitely coming up strong,” she said.