Blind tennis coach excited for sport’s sharp uptake
Blind tennis player and coach Rob Fletcher is preparing to welcome lots of new players to the sport he has come to adore.
As an early convert himself, Rob is now seeing hundreds of Australians with vision loss picking up rackets across the country to participate in the sport.
“The game is really growing and it’s a great time to be part of it,” he said.
Rob says in 2022, the game had only 30 state level players. Last year that number jumped to 70 blind and low vision competitive players in the national competition.
Many more are just picking up rackets to play for fun.
Rob will host a tennis showcase on All Abilities Day at the Australian Open on 23 January, at Show Court 3 at 10 am.
People are being encouraged to come and try the sport while also soaking up the summer tournament.
L-R: Adam Fayad, Blind Tennis Player, Dylan Alcott, Wheelchair Tennis athlete, Rob Fletcher, Blind Tennis player.
Blind tennis is split into classifications according to the player’s vision and uses a modified ball that jingles. In the B1 category, players have no functional vision and wear a blindfold. They compete on a smaller court surrounded by tactile lines and with a lower net.
In category B2 and upwards, players have increasingly better eyesight and the court is bigger, with no tactile lines. In B1 and B2, the ball is permitted to bounce three times before each shot, while in B3 two bounces are allowed and in B4, in which players have a greater amount of sight, it may bounce only once.
Rob plays in the B2 category, having only four per cent peripheral vision.
“I can’t see the net if it’s one metre in front of me,” he says.
Rob lost his sight 13 years ago from Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis.
His Guide Dog Hamish is his companion and eyes on and off the court.
“He is just such a good dog,” Rob said.
“He sits on the side next to the umpire’s chair and apparently his head goes back and forth watching.”
Hamish has also become quite the frequent flyer, accompanying Rob across the country and internationally for tennis tournaments.
Rob hopes the Australian Open will soon host the Blind Tennis national tournament, to encourage larger crowds and showcase the sport as its popularity grows.
Surprisingly, blind tennis is not yet a paralympic sport.
As 2024 is an Olympics year, Rob is hoping to ride the momentum and see a strong campaign start to see the sport get recognised in the world’s most prestigious sporting event.
Locally, Rob is also about to start his next level of coaching accreditation in February. That means he will be to be able to teach adults of all abilities.
He wants to make sure people with vision loss can be taught by people with lived experience.
For all those interested in playing Blind and Low Vision Tennis, you can find teams and local leagues across Australia at https://blindsportsaustralia.com.au/