French wheelchair tennis in search of greater professionalization

By Ruben Curiel

Posted today at 6:00 p.m.

To focus on its service, the hustle and bustle of Parisian cars around, noticeable even in mid-August, does not help. The balls stuck in the wheel of the chair, a winning forehand, then a cry of relief. At the National Training Center (CNE) of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), in full 16e arrondissement of Paris and a stone’s throw from Roland-Garros, morning training reaches its climax for Charlotte Fairbank and Emmanuelle Mörch.

The two young women, 30 and 31, complete the first day-long session of their training camp before flying to Japan, where they are scheduled to compete in the wheelchair tennis tournament at the Paralympic Games, which starts on Friday, August 27. . On the adjoining court, Frédéric Cattanéo, Nicolas Peifer and Gaëtan Menguy continue their session. With Stéphane Houdet, standard bearer of the French delegation in Tokyo, they will represent the chances of medals for the Blues at the Games.

Charlotte Fairbank in training, at the French Tennis Federation (FFT) National Training Center (CNE), in Paris, August 18, 2021.

Under a summer gray and almost Tokyo humidity, Charlotte Fairbank and Emmanuelle Mörch, who will also share the doubles court in Japan, pick up the last balls. Hervé Tassaro, coach of the French women’s team, praises this “Synergy” : “Charlotte and Emmanuelle both train in Paris, it’s easier to bring them together and to work fundamentally and tactically. When they come to the center, it allows us to ensure real follow-up, to create a team spirit in a short time. Something we cannot do with all wheelchair tennis players. “

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Since 2017, paratennis has shifted into the federal fold, with the signing of an agreement with the FFT. This offers the possibility for athletes to come and train whenever they wish at the CNE, where they can have a physical and mental trainer, medical services, balneotherapy and a hypoxic room (which recreates the conditions of the ‘altitude), as detailed by Patrick Labazuy, who supervises wheelchair tennis at the FFT.

Since the start of the pandemic, the preparation of athletes has been disrupted.  Most players have to juggle professional and sporting life, training in different clubs and depending on personal sponsors.
Emmanuelle Mörch, at the national training center of the French Tennis Federation, in Paris, August 18, 2021.
Unlike the so-called “city” armchairs, those intended for sports (here, that of Charlotte Fairbank) have inclined wheels to protect the hands of athletes, gain speed and acceleration power, as well as stability.  This is also the role of the small additional balance wheel at the rear.

Momentum slowed by the pandemic

This monitoring is not as thorough as it could be because players and players have, for the most part, to juggle professional and sporting life, training in different clubs and depending on personal sponsors. “Athletes need to find a personal and financial balance. If they do thirty tournaments in the year, that’s thirty weeks off work. I don’t know too many employers who accept this. And they are the ones who pay for training and travel ”, notes Hervé Tassaro.

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