Hear from junior world no.12 Josh Steels as he found himself celebrating International Paralympic Day with a new doubles partner in front of the nation's media.
On September 8th 1934 Fred Perry won the US Open Final in a fifth set decider 8-6. Fast-forward 77 years and September 8th had another tennis first etched into its history as British Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson hit with two British wheelchair tennis players in the middle of Trafalgar Square.
I was lucky enough to be right at the centre of the whole thing and this is how it happened…
After an early start at the National Tennis Centre, I headed off with my fellow players Dermot Bailey, John Parfitt and Adam Field into rush hour London traffic at its finest. After a few close calls with some cyclists, we made it to Trafalgar Square which was playing host to the first International Paralympic Day held outside Germany.
The event was organised by LOCOG on behalf of the International Paralympic Committee and all 20 Paralympic sports were featured in some way with demos and celebrity appearances. When we arrived there were cameras and journalists everywhere and the whole day was covered by Channel 4 as part of their ongoing coverage of Paralympic sport in the lead up to 2012.
Playing tennis in the centre of London is something that is rather surreal! Hitting with red, low-compression balls on a mini tennis court looked, at first glance, like it was going to be a nightmare, but turned out to be quite good.
The size of the court meant that we were able to show off all the tricks and flicks of wheelchair tennis to the public and it was great fun too. We played a short doubles match with me and Adam versus Dermot and John, but the result doesn’t matter. In no way did Adam and I lose…
We were asked to do a second demo in the afternoon, which was ever so slightly different from our first one. We had been told that the Mayor of London would be joining us on court, but it wasn’t until about an hour before the demo that we found out the Prime Minister would be coming along too! All of a sudden guys in suits with earpieces popped up left, right and centre and the all-purpose court area filled up with increasing numbers of curious onlookers.
On court we had a short meet and greet session with Boris Johnson, David Cameron, DCMS’s Jeremy Hunt and LOCOG Chair Seb Coe before the PM and the Mayor picked up their rackets. It has to be said that David Cameron is a rather good player and Boris wasn’t too bad either!
They had time for one quick game that was tight all the way through and ended up at deuce. After some communication errors between myself and the PM, Boris and John came out as victors, with Boris hitting a smash on match point. It capped off a great day and hopefully promoted wheelchair tennis to a whole new audience.
The media coverage that day and the next was incredible and I think the event was a huge success. The idea of showcasing Paralympic sport in the capital pulled hundreds of people in and hopefully gave them an insight into some of the sports they may have known nothing about. Most certainly it was something I will never forget!