An inclusive tennis tournament has kicked off in Melbourne, including, for the first time, players who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Almost 60 athletes from across the country are competing for a national title at the 24th annual Australian Tennis Championships at Melbourne Park this week.
Tim Gould is one of them. The 29-year-old is back to try and claim a third consecutive singles title in the category for players with Down syndrome. And, he’s dedicating this year’s competition to his family.
“My goal is to come top once again,” he told SBS News. “I win for my family – for mum and dad and for my brothers.”
The tournament, run by Tennis Australia, is usually held during the Australian Open but was pushed back three months due to COVID-19 disruptions.
Over four days, it will provide opportunities for players aged from 12 to 58 across four categories – those with an intellectual disability, Down syndrome and autism, and, for the first time this year, those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Phil Harper, from Deaf Sports Australia, said the event is a “wonderful” opportunity for the athletes.
“I wish for myself [that] I was 30 years younger in the same competition, because it’s wonderful for them to have this opportunity [and] the pathway from local to national to international in the future,” he said.
For some, the tournament is an opportunity to gain independence and inclusion through sport. For others, it’s a pathway to representing Australia on a global stage.
Kelly Wren is competing for her 23rd title in the category for players with an intellectual disability. The 43-year-old won her first title at the tournament in 1998 and has gone on to win more than 20 titles since.
She said it’s a privilege to play tennis both in Australia and internationally.
“I just love what I do, and the more you love what you do, the more you want to come back and just keep playing,” she said.
Flagbearer Olivia Sayers, 34, was an inaugural champion in the title for players with Down syndrome in 2019.
She went on to be selected to represent Australia at the INAS Global Games in Brisbane last year.
As a professional athlete also with international accolades in swimming and downhill skiing, she said half the attraction is catching up with her friends.
“I like the competition and, of course, hanging out with my friends as well,” she said. “I’m just so happy to be here and have this great experience.”
Retired Australian tennis star Todd Woodbridge praised the efforts of Tennis Australia to make the event a reality this year.
“To be able to get this tournament back up and running, and continue on and to have the championships – you can see by the looks on all the [players’] faces how great it is,” he said.