Duncan Mackay

Switching to a new sport has definitely been an interesting challenge and, having competed at an elite level in wheelchair basketball for such a long time, it’s exciting to start a new sport with a clean slate.

Whilst I’m still developing as a wheelchair tennis player, I feel like I’ve been able to use the wisdom gained from my previous sporting career to benefit my new one. 

However, there is also a degree of frustration. For ten or so years I could go anywhere in the world and be one of the better players on the basketball court so it’s very hard to then find yourself at a new starting point where you’re the worst player. 

When I first played wheelchair tennis I was beaten by people of all ages, from 12-years-old to 50-years-old.

When I played basketball it took me 10-to-12 years to perfect a really consistent outside shot. For tennis, they say you need to play 40,000 swings before it hits muscle memory – maybe I’m at around twenty-five thousand swings (a rough guess!) so I’m getting there. I have an advantage from my basketball days as I’m naturally very fit and also very strong. 

However, I’ve also found I’ve needed to learn new skills, especially relating to wheelchair movement. Basketball is more staccato in terms of movement, much more short and sharp, whereas tennis is more of a dance and you need to glide across the court. Wheelchair tennis is a bit like a jigsaw and as I make more progress it’s like I’m fitting more and more of the pieces together.

There have been some highlights from my brief time in tennis. I played on a tour in South Africa and there was one game I remember clearly where I reached the quarter-final of an ITF tournament in Johannesburg.  I came from a set down to win. I’d be playing abysmally and then after the first set it began to rain.  I was off that court in a flash and, with the game suspended, I was able to watch my performance and analyse where I was going wrong. I returned the next day and won two straight sets for victory. 

However, there have of course been a few low points. One memory I’m able to laugh about now was when I was playing in a tournament in Utrecht in Holland.  In a moment of sheer frustration I threw my tennis racket at the wire mesh fence that lined one side of the court. Somehow, and I wouldn’t be able to do it again if I tried a million times, I managed to lodge the handle in between one of the wire mesh holes and the racket was just stuck up on the fence.  My advice to anyone is not to throw a tennis racket unless you have a racket sponsor – had that been the case I could have left it there and pulled a new racket out of my bag! 

Unfortunately, I only owned one racket and my coach pointed out (with laughter from the crowd ringing in the background) that if anyone else helped me get it down it would count as a point deduction for racket violation. I was forced to keep shaking the fence until it finally fell down (upon which, to complete the humiliation, it hit me on the head!).

I’m not taking too much notice of any pressure around London 2012. I know I’ll be able to play a part in London 2012 as there are various opportunities presenting themselves in areas outside tennis. However, there is an opportunity for me to put myself forward as one of the people competing for a wheelchair tennis place. I wouldn’t want to do this if I didn’t think I had a real shot at making an impact and pushing for a medal.  

Three players have probably almost guaranteed their place in London 2012 at the Paralympics, so it looks like there will be competition amongst about five of us for the remaining spot. The likelihood is that a play-off tournament will be arranged later this year to help decide who will take that spot, so it’d be really interesting to see how I’d fare in a play-off scenario.

It’s less than a week until the start of the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, which is a brilliant event and gives people a taste of what it’ll be like at the Paralympics in 2012. It enables some of the best international Paralympic athletes to compete against each other every year in athletics, swimming, seven-a-side football and wheelchair basketball. 

It’s also a great chance for GB athletes to get a sense of what it’s like to compete on home soil in front of home fans. I was lucky enough to play in the inaugural event, where the wheelchair basketball team won gold, and I’ll always remember the noise and support from the crowd. It’s great that, as of last year, BT chose to add their support as the title sponsor of the event, furthering their historical support for disability sport in Britain and helping raise the profile of Paralympic sport. 

In terms of London 2012, the whole country seems to be growing more and more excited.  It would be amazing if it can help more Paralympians become household names. As a country, we have a chance to leave a true legacy and, for me, the most important element of that will be to change attitudes to sport. 

I don’t just mean at the elite level - I’d like to see the legacy take the form of better sporting facilities across the whole country as a result of increasing demand from people wanting to participate in sport after having been inspired by our Olympians and Paralympians. If we have a better environment to encourage sport, then we can have a fitter, happier, healthier society and that’s something that can only be good for Great Britain.

Ade Adepitan, a member of Britain's wheelchair basketball team that won a bronze medal at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, is a BT Ambassador.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more details on the BT Paralympic World Cup click here.