FROM LIFE-THREATENING INFECTION TO WORLD JUNIOR TOP 10: THE GENERATION INSPIRED BY THE 2012 GAMES
GB Wheelchair tennis star Esperanza Merry has become the youngest ever athlete to break into the world junior top 10 in wheelchair tennis after she won doubles at the ITF Futures Memorial Jens Vanherck Women’s tournament in Belgium.
Esperanza and her partner, Natascha Hoefhamer, flew to victory at the ITF Futures Memorial Jens Vanherck doubles tournament – beating No.1 and No.2 seeds on their way - to make Esperanza the youngest ever winner of an ITF tournament. Esperanza also got to the final of the singles tournament – making her the youngest ever singles finalist of an ITF tournament - but was defeated by Belgium’s Els Verhoeven, 6-4, 6-3. This success has ensured that Esperanza now ranks world No.9 in girl’s singles and No.112 in women’s singles.
Eight months previously Esperanza, a 12-year-old tennis player from Plymouth, had received some news that would change her life. Having contracted a life-threatening infection in her right hip she was told her dreams as a rising able bodied tennis star were over.
Esperanza was determined to not give up and the performance of British Wheelchair Tennis No.1 Lucy Shuker, who took home bronze at the Paralympic Games 2012, spurred her on to continue in the sport. She has since taken the world of wheelchair tennis by storm: winning Gold as part of the GB Junior Team for the 2013 BNP Paribas and claiming doubles victory at the ITF Futures Memorial Jens Vanherck Women’s Doubles tournament in Belgium.
‘’I remember watching the Games and thinking that one day I wanted to be there myself. I love playing tennis so much that to be able to play the sport in any form is amazing – I actually love my wheelchair now and it’s been a new challenge too. It’s so important to have great Paralympic role models like Lucy. They keep you believing that, despite everything you are going through, there’s always hope that you can continue to play the sport you love.
“I’ve had so many people helping me since I decided I wanted to play wheelchair tennis and hopefully I can do them proud if I make it to Rio 2016.’’
Since her recovery Esperanza has joined the Tennis Foundation Wheelchair Tennis Performance Programme, and hopes to replicate the career of her role-model, Lucy Shuker, by qualifying for the 2016 and 2020 Paralympics.
Esperanza’s tennis coach James Lenton, Director of Dukes Meadows’ FC** Tennis Academy said:
“With everything Esperanza has been through to be getting the success she has been is truly inspirational for all the kids at the FC** Tennis Academy. The way in which she has dealt with everything in such a positive manner is brilliant. Role models such as Lucy Shuker have taught young children to look past their disability and continue to play sport.’’
James Lenton was a top ten British senior before his retirement aged 21 and has 20 years experience of which 10 years was as an LTA National coach, helping some of the best names in British Tennis win national and international titles.