Fran Smith took the headlines at this year’s School Games wheelchair tennis tournament at Loughborough University with a double gold for Wales. Eighteen year-old Smith took both the Girls Singles and Doubles titles on what was her debut at the event. Smith defeated England’s Abbie Breakwell in the Girls Singles final, coming back from losing the first set to win gold with an 11-9 win in a deciding tie-break. In the Girls Doubles final, Smith partnered compatriot Lilly Folland, also a debutant, to claim a second gold for Wales, with England taking the other podium places through Bishop and Martha Harris (silver) and Breakwell and Megan Bradley (bronze).
With Wales having previously had only boys representing at the Games, this year was a turnaround as, with no boys representing, it was up to Caernarfon’s Fran Smith and Cardiff’s Lilly Folland hoping to build on last year’s medal success. After travelling to Loughborough and becoming acclimatised in the Athlete Village, Day 1 allowed for some training to get used to the courts.
Day 2 saw an early start for Lilly Folland, this year’s youngest competitor, as she played England’s Martha Harris, whom she had previously beaten at the British Open, but despite a strong comeback after losing the first set, Lilly lost in the tie-break, 0-4, 4-0, 5-10 to go in to the consolation draw. Fran Smith cruised through her opening match, beating Megan Bradley 4-0, 4-1. Fran and Lilly then had their first of the round robin doubles matches where they produced a strong performance to beat Scotland’s Jade Mcgoldrick and Ellie Robertson 4-0, 4-0.
Day3 was a perfect day for the Welsh pair; another early start saw a great result for Lilly Folland as she beat Scotland’s more experienced Ellie Robertson in the one-set consolation draw 6-4. Fran Smith was next up and faced a tough challenge from England’s Ruby Bishop but played some fine tennis to win 4-2, 4-0 and book her place in the singles final. Lilly and Fran then teamed up again needing a win from one of the two remaining matches to secure a place in the Gold/Silver playoff. First they faced last year’s doubles winners Abbie Breakwell and Megan Bradley and once again produced a strong performance to win 4-1, 4-1 and followed that by winning a hard fought match against England’s Ruby Bishop and Martha Harris 4-2, 5-3 to reach the final unbeaten. At the end of a long day, Lilly, playing better with every round, then faced Megan Bradley in the Consolation Final, and again produced an accomplished performance winning 6-2 to end a fabulous day’s tennis.
Day 4 commenced with the Girl’s Doubles where the Welsh pair once again faced England’s Ruby Bishop and Martha Harris. The girls obviously learnt from the previous day’s match as they produced a fabulous display of wheelchair tennis doubles to take the match 4-0, 4-0 and win Gold for Wales. Fran then faced England’s reigning champion Abbie Breakwell in the singles final, and after losing the first set 2-4, with Breakwell hitting strong forehand winners, Fran adjusted her tactics to take the second set 4-2 and go to a matchplay tie-break. In a tense tie-break, Fran fought back from being down 6-8 and then 8-9 to take the tie-break and match 11-9, and win the Gold medal and make it a second Gold for Wales.
A clean sweep of the girls finals was an amazing result for Wales, building on the success of last year, and a great achievement for Fran and Lilly justifying their dedication especially Fran who had committed to training in Cardiff with Team Manager, Dave Liddiard, despite a four hour each way journey. In addition to support from Tennis Wales the team were also aided by Sena Tengey who facilitated training courts at House of Sport and by YC Sports of Cardiff who helped with their equipment.
Organised by the Youth Sport Trust, the School Games is a four-day event supported by National Lottery funding from Sport England for the UK’s most talented school-age athletes. Athletes from across the UK are competing in 12 sports, including wheelchair tennis. The event aims to replicate the experience of a major sporting event such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games with an athletes’ village and a full education programme that gives the competing athletes a unique insight into the world of elite sport.
The wheelchair tennis tournament at the School Games is managed by the Tennis Foundation, Great Britain’s leading tennis charity, which aims to make tennis a sport that is inclusive and accessible to all, making it possible for them to enjoy the many health and social benefits of the sport while maximising their personal potential.
If you are interested in giving wheelchair tennis – or any other form of disability tennis – a go get in touch with them via firstname.lastname@example.org