How do ‘blindness’ and ‘tennis’ go together. Hard to imagine such a creature, but blind tennis does exist. At the ripe old age of sixty-five, I’ve decided to give it a go.
The tennis ball is one and a half times as large as a normal one and rattles as it hurtles towards the player. The racket is smaller with the rules being similar.
Terms like forearm, back hand and volley are used. The game is played on a standard tennis court.
It was the dream of a blind school boy Miyoshi Takei in 1984, to play tennis like his sighted mates. He wanted to hit a ball that bounced. Visually impaired versions of other sports such as volleyball, table tennis and baseball already existed. But, in these games, a ball was rolled on the ground rather than bounced.
To find the right ball posed the first problem. It needed to have some bounce in it but be soft enough, to avoid taking out the eye of any hapless player or bystander. Toy, plastic balls proved to erratic in their bouncing ability. Then he heard of Swedish Short tennis which uses a foam ball. By splitting it in half and imbedding a small rattling ball used in table tennis, Miyoshi and his coach finally had the solution. Tournaments are now held throughout the world with players reaching professional skill. In Blind Tennis, the ball is allowed to bounce twice for partially sighted players and three times for blind competitors.
My two attempts with racket and correct stance, are less impressive. Three bounces or even, a hundred bounces, it made no difference. Perhaps one in twenty balls might feel the ‘thwat’ of my flailing bat. The rattle inside the ball seems distorted as it hurtles towards me. But it isn’t hurtling towards me. It only seems so. The reality is that it is moving too far to the left or right. Even Miyoshi found it difficult at first, to locate the direction. Yet the thrill when the ball makes contact with the centre of the bat. My shoulder comes back, my arm whips forward and the ball goes high over the heads of fellow players, coaches and bystanders. Whether the aim of the game is to make the ball sore to the ceiling, giving my opponent no chance of sending it back my way, is up for debate.
At home I hit my foam ball around the sitting-room missing more shots than my patience will tolerate and yet I keep listening, stooping and lashing out, and there’s the problem my patient coach tries to impress on me.
“Don’t slash. Gently tap. Lower your force from a hundred down to one percent.” Imagine that, from Serena Williams’ power to a butterfly’s kiss. This, even more than locating the direction of the oncoming ball, demands the most from my high-voltage approach to life.
So facing the sitting-room door, I school myself to gently tap and even then I miss it. The ball moves slower, but the distortion is still there. That one contact with the bat and my motivation is riding high again.
But where’s the damned ball now? As soon as it stops rolling, I’ve lost it. No sound to guide me. At the courts, there’s many eager volunteers and coaches ready to run and retrieve the ball. At home, I must section the space off and try to feel for the wretched thing.
I asked my coach if he’d tried to hit the ball in a blindfold? “Yes” says he.
“How did it go?” I wanted to know expecting him to say “swimmingly”
“Oh it’s a disaster. I only hit one in twenty attempts.” Was I gratified? I certainly was. Will I keep on trying? Indeed, I will. It focuses the mind and hones the reflexes. As an
Aging woman, I need all the help I can get.
Ellen Bassani, Summer 2016