The Sunday Leader

Wheelchair Tennis Minds On Olympic Medal

BUOYED by its bronze medal performance in last month’s World Team Championship in Seoul, as well as its top players successes this year over high ranking foreign opponents, Sri Lanka’s Wheelchair Tennis Committee thinks a medal at the Paralympics, in August in London, isn’t a far-fetched prospect.
The ITF awarded wild card entries to Upali Rajakaruna and Gamini Dissanayake, both battlefield casualties, but P S Kumara, WTC chairman, insists the wild cards weren’t charitable handouts, as is the popular notion. “It has to be stressed that the wild cards were earned,” said Kumara at Thursday’s media briefing at the SLTA. “After Upali and Gamini won four of their five World Team Championship matches, the ITF I think couldn’t keep them out of the Paralympics. Also, internationally, the two have produced some exceptional performances in the last 12 months, beating players with higher world rankings than them.”
The most noteworthy performance this year came from Sgt. Rajakaruna, a 37-year old father of three. Though ranked 77th, he defeated the world’s nos. 24 and 25 and went on to take the singles title in the US$10, 000 Sri Lanka Open in Colombo. That performance followed by the World Team Championship bronze medal has propelled to 56th in the world, while Cpl.  Dissanayake has climbed from 76 to 70 – their career-best world ranking so far.
“Normally, players in the top 25 get direct entry into the main 32-player draw of the Paralympics and about six-seven places are set aside for wildcard entries. So, for Upali to defeat players in the top 25 obviously means, given a favourable draw, a medal is within his grasp,’’ said Kumara. “And that’s how he feels – his confidence is sky high.”
The WTC chairman paid tribute to the dedication shown by Coach Jagath Welikela and professional Conditioning Trainer, Ranil Harshana, whose service to the cause is honorary.
As ever finance is a major bug bear. “A grant of nearly Rs.750, 000 was given by the Sport Ministry, and whilst the contribution is appreciated, it doesn’t pay all our bills. Whatever the players have achieved is because of the international experience given them – and that isn’t cheap. Each trip per player costs about Rs. 230, 000, which means constantly money has to be raised,” said Kumara. “Fortunately, I have some rich friends who help out. I also sounded out some of friends overseas and they’ve responded very generously.”

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