48-year-old Brit, Peter Norfolk, is the world number one quad wheelchair tennis player. He has won 14 grand slam tournaments, including his third Australian Open this year. He has won two Paralympic gold medals, at Athens and Beijing. In 2005, he was awarded an MBE.
What do you do?
Since 1989 I have run a business, EPC Wheelchairs, in Farnborough. I also play wheelchair tennis.
What is your typical day?
Well, I’ll go to work and after that I’ll take my dog to the woods for a run and then play tennis for two or three hours at the NTC (National Tennis Centre) in Roehampton.
What is your proudest achievement?
I think, winning this year’s Australian Open. I’d been playing tennis non-stop for seven years, so after Beijing I took some time off. The heat in Australia was draining, in the 30s at 8am and the mid-forties by 11 and climbing, but I managed to regain my title.
Also, I recently had a Stagecoach Goldline bus named after me.
Can you explain wheelchair tennis to me?
It has three divisions: men, women and quad. Quad players have three or more affected limbs. If a player cannot compete in able-bodied tennis, because of a disability, they can play in a wheelchair.
The French are particularly good at encouraging players into wheelchairs and I would say that at tournaments, most wheelchair players can walk.
Isn’t that cheating?
Not at all. If you can’t play able-bodied tennis, for whatever reason, you can play in a wheelchair.
What are the rules?
The rules are exactly the same as traditional tennis; the rackets are identical, the balls the same, but they are allowed to bounce twice. But, it’s much better to hit it first time.
Tell me about the chair.
You don’t need a special chair, anything will do, but it depends whether you’re playing for rehabilitation, recreationally or competitively. Top of the range will cost around £2500, but with a decent entry level at around £1,400.
Are you friends with other tennis players or athletes at the Paralympics?
Well, we’re all on nodding terms; I respect what they do and I hope they respect what I do. I had been to Beijing before the Olympics to check it out and it is amazing, but I was there to win. I become quite insular and focused; no-one remembers the runner up.
Can you make a living from wheelchair tennis?
Yes, it is possible. If a kid loses his foot and feels he has nothing in life, he could get on the tennis circuit and earn a decent living. I work with the Tennis Foundation and run tennis camps for children. For me it’s a hobby, funded by my business.
What are your ambitions?
I want to continue a successful business and ride out the recession. I want wheelchair tennis to continue to grow and get more mainstream and let’s applaud all our winners.
You’ve won gold medals at two Paralympics. Have you been approached to get involved in the 2012 preparations?
No, they could ask me though…
Olympic organisers should make Peter an offer he can’t refuse.
What’s your favourite film?
Do you have any bad habits?
I like the occasional glass of wine, but I prefer champagne.
What do you think of the drop-shot?
It’s a valid tactical weapon.
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