Hewett, De Groot headline expanded draws

 - Eleanor Preston

Wheelchair action commences on Tuesday

Alfie Hewett, Roland Garros 2021, wheelchair final© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

As it moves towards its conclusion, this year’s Roland-Garros is already on something of a roll.

But with two 12-player men’s and women’s wheelchair draws and a quad division competition getting underway in Paris on Tuesday, the 2022 tournament is also about to gain several pairs of wheels.

In a new chapter for Roland-Garros, these are the largest draws of all three disciplines ever seen in Paris, with the men’s, women’s and quad rosters all including four more players than in 2021.

Great Britain’s Alfie Hewett will be trying to defend his title in the men’s wheelchair tournament after last year’s final victory over Japanese wheelchair tennis legend Shingo Kunieda.

There will also be plenty of attention on 16-year-old Tokito Oda, Kunieda’s compatriot, who will become the youngest male wheelchair tennis player to make his Grand Slam debut.


In the women’s competition, 2021 champion Diede De Groot – a woman whose Twitter handle “Diede The Great” handily sums up her level of achievement – will also begin the event as marginal favourite.

Japan’s Yui Kamiji owns four singles titles at Roland-Garros and will be hoping to add a fifth.

The quad event was won last time around by all-conquering Australian Dylan Alcott, who retired after his home Grand Slam in January, so a new champion will be crowned in the 2022 final.

Dutchmen Sam Schroder and Niels Vink are arguably favourites, although former runner-up Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain will also like his chances.

Diede De Groot, Roland-Garros 2021, Tennis Fauteuil Double Dames, Premier Tour, Pauline Ballet / FFT

The Uniqlo Wheelchair Tour, run by the International Tennis Federation, boasts 160 tournaments in 40 different countries, offers $3million (USD) in prize money and attracts substantial sponsorship worldwide.

Wheelchair tennis (including quad tennis) has been a full medal sport at the Paralympic Games since 1992 and is widely regarded as the highest profile and most commercially successful of any Paralympic sport.

Much of that spotlight and revenue is thanks to the four Grand Slams – including Roland Garros – which have hosted wheelchair tournaments since 2007.

'Every bit as thrilling'

The rules are much the same as its non-disabled counterpart with one notable exception – wheelchair and quad players can take two bounces of the ball before each strike, providing the first bounce is within the lines of the court.

This adds a different tactical dimension as well as significant dexterity and fitness as players will usually take a 360-degree turn in order to get into the correct position to address the ball.


Matches are every bit as thrilling and every bit as physically gruelling as other tennis happening at Roland Garros, and often even more demanding given that many players are dealing with significant impairments.

Some, like Great Britain’s Lucy Shuker, have little or no strength in their core (the result of a motorcycle accident that left her paraplegic) and have to compensate with tactical acuity and immense upper body strength.

Yui Kamiji, Roland-Garros 2021, Tennis Fauteuil Double Dames, Finale, Loic Wacziak / FFT

In the quad division, players must have substantial loss of function in three or more limbs to qualify.

Some, like quad legend David Wagner, must tape the racquet to their playing hand in order to maintain grip.

Wagner, who was an outstanding college tennis player before a freak accident while playing frisbee on a beach left him paralysed from the waist down, has an estimated 30 percent of function in his playing hand.

This has not prevented him from winning six Grand Slam quad singles titles or a staggering 22 doubles titles, most of which were won with fellow American Nick Taylor, who famously had to toss the ball up to serve using his foot.

There are extraordinary stories everywhere you look in wheelchair and quad tennis and every shot has a surge of inspirational power behind it.

Dylan Alcott, Roland-Garros 2021, Quad Simple Messieurs, Remise de Prix, Loic Wacziak / FFT

Quite apart from the incredibly high standard that these athletes play at, each of them has had to overcome a unique degree of adversity to reach the point where they are competing at one of the four biggest tennis tournaments in the world.

They carry with them a powerful message: that tennis is for everyone.

Putting on a show

When Alcott retired in January, the outpouring of love and appreciation in his home country and around the world showed just how much he had helped put not just tennis but all Paralympic sports on the map.

He was very clear that he had little interest in people watching, as he put it with customary cheerful bluntness, “just to get the warm fuzzies. You know, ‘We’re going to support the disabled athletes’” but because they do what all elite level tennis players do – create a compelling showcase for their sport and create a product that fans love.

“People want to watch because we are elite athletes who put on a show and kick a** every single time we play, and we give a return on investment to the media, to ticket-holders and to sponsors,” said Alcott.