1982 : Welcome to wheelchair tennis

Aug 7, 2023, 5:07:31 PM

European wheelchair tennis started in France

Jean-Pierre Limborg is hard to chase. India, Philippines, Germany, USA, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand… Talking with this 67-year-old engineer will make you travel the globe for sure. He did travel as an ambassador for the French wheelchair tennis federation and a  figurehead of this sport born in western America in the late 1970s. In December 1981, as he had just returned from a trip in Las Vegas where he discovered aluminium wheelchairs, which are much lighter and handier, and the ‘double bound’ rule, which is the essence of wheelchair tennis, he started the first French wheelchair tennis section in Antony with Pierre Fusade. They recruited people from both wheelchair basketball and table tennis, the main two wheelchair sports. They joined the French Parasports Federation (FFH) a few weeks later. “There were four players to begin with, but we soon reached 30 members,” says Limborg. “Then, a Dutchman who had seen me in a TV report and whose daughter had just had a car accident came to see us. That’s how they started playing wheelchair tennis in the Netherlands. Then came Germany, and the rest of Europe, and boom!” This ‘boom’ was the first French team championship in 1983. The sport grew rapidly and soon became a global phenomenon; Limborg played high-level wheelchair tennis for 38 years –313 tournaments exactly, from Las Vegas 1981 to Maubeuge 2018 –before he retired due to his “ruined shoulders.” Limborg says he must have travelled at least twice around the world on his wheelchair, with his sole arms to drive him. “To put my life in a nutshell, anytime two paths opened in front of me, I followed the hardest one.” But it was all for the best. He joined Bernard Giudicelli’s staff at the FFT in 2017. When they first met, Limborg told Giudicelli everything about his life. Giudicelli cried; he was overwhelmed by the message of hope this “explorer” carried. Together, they included wheelchair tennis to FFT in 2017. The budget allocated to the sport was multiplied by ten –from €40,000 to €400,000. It sent a crucial message in terms of inclusion. “I am so proud,” says Jean Pierre Limborg. “I have finally brought things full circle. I introduced wheelchair tennis in France, and I have made it an FFT sport. What a wonderful journey.” Wheelchair tennis will forever be on a roll.