Creation and development of global wheelchair tennis
Did you know that wheelchair tennis was invented in the USA by Brad Parks, a promising freestyle skier who ended up paraplegic after a ski accident in 1976? He met parasports athlete Jeff Minnebraker during his recovery that year; they cofounded, promoted, and wrote the rules of wheelchair tennis. In 1980, Parks, David Kiley, David Saltz, and Jim Worth founded the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis, which hosts tournaments across the USA. The professional ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour was launched in 1992; the sport was introduced to the Paralympic Games that year too.
In 1993, BNP became a sponsor of wheelchair tennis through various competitions, like the BNP Paribas Open de France Handisport. Wheelchair tennis arrived in France in the early 1980s thanks to Jean-Pierre Limborg who founded a club in Antony, and the sport saw its credibility increase when its major financial backer BNP –world tennis No. 1 sponsor and the French Open official sponsor since 1973– arrived. In 2009, BNP went a step further and became the main sponsor of international wheelchair tennis; it took the sport to a whole new level.
BNP Paribas also became an active sponsor of the Wheelchair Tennis World Team Cup, the Wheelchair Tennis Masters (both in singles and doubles), as well as six other competitions of the Wheelchair Tennis Tour. “By getting involved in the development of global wheelchair tennis, we stick to our main sponsoring line, which is acting for diversity,” said Antoine Sire, the BNP Paribas brand, communication, and quality director, in 2009. “The ITF policy and the engagement of the athletes have made wheelchair tennis a spectacular sport. This new partnership proves that we support all forms of tennis.” Then-World No. 1 Dutch player Esther Vergeer, a true wheelchair tennis legend, was proud of this sponsoring that she thought would “help the sport grow and be more accessible globally.” She was proved to be right; wheelchair tennis is now played in 40 countries in the world, and the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour features more than 150 competitions, including the Grand Slam tournaments. In France, there are between 450 and 500 members, including 257 ranked competitors –42 women and 215 men. In early June 2022, the French Open men’s and women’s wheelchair event finals were played on the legendary Court Philippe Chatrier.