Beaufort News

Field loaded for annual wheelchair tennis event on Hilton Head Island

The Fall Southern PTR Wheelchair Championships have been coming to Hilton Head Island for more than 20 years.

This week's field may be the strongest to date, said tournament director Julie Jilly, who has been a part of the event since its inception.

With the Paralympics now just one year away -- next year's event is in London -- players are trying to accumulate tournament points to qualify for wheelchair tennis' marquee event. That means few are skipping this year's PTR Wheelchair Championships, which begin today at Chaplin Park Tennis Center and conclude with championship matches Saturday and Sunday.

The tournament includes 90 players from 14 countries, including the top junior player in the world, Argentina's Gustavo Fernandez, who is playing in the men's open division.

Japan's Satoshi Saida, the eighth-ranked player in the world and second-ranked player in his country, is the top seed in the men's open bracket. Saida said he has been battling a case of tennis elbow since May, but he doesn't want to sit out and fall back in the point standings.

Saida took home a gold medal in doubles from the 2004 Summer Paralympics.

"Everybody is trying to make the (Paralympics)," said Saida, who is trying to qualify for the Paralympics for the fifth time. "It's exciting, I think. It's the biggest event in wheelchair tennis. It's on TV, in newspapers. It's where we all want to play."

Many players in this week's field are in line to qualify. Four players from each qualifying country participate in the Paralympics, and the PTR event includes top players from around the globe.

"We have more open players than ever before," Jilly said, referring to the tournament's toughest bracket. "It's going to make for an exciting tournament."

The event begins with matches today, but a few of the marquee opening-day matches will take place under the lights for the first time in tournament history.

Men's, women's and quad doubles matches will be played at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Chaplin Park, and they will feature some of the world's best doubles teams.

"It gives the community a chance to come out and see these players have a major passion for the game," Jilly said. "They're happy to be here, happy to be playing. A lot of able-bodied players lose their passion over time, but these players never lose it."