For the first time in over a decade, two juniors are competing at the Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championships, and in a year where Canadian wheelchair tennis experienced its greatest high at the Parapan Am Games, Tomas Bourassa and Thomas Venos represent a bright future for the sport.
Both 16-year-olds from British Columbia, the two young athletes were completely new to tennis when they first picked up a racquet. They have varying levels of experience – Venos only started playing wheelchair tennis this summer while Bourassa is a relative veteran in comparison with six years under his belt
Bourassa was introduced to tennis when his recreational therapist brought him to a British Columbia Wheelchair Sports Association (BCWSA) Have a Go Day. Now ranked world No. 401 on the men’s circuit and No. 48 in juniors, Bourassa is excited for the sport to grow and hopes to be part of a potential new national junior team.
“I’d like for that to happen, I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said. “Ever since I’ve started to step up my game and started competing, I’ve really been the only high level junior in the country. I’d really like it if somebody else would try and train and be as good as they can so I have somebody to compare against and play with.”
Venos could be that counterpart, as just four months into playing the sport, he is already showing promise. He was still in injury rehabilitation when he took the court for his first tournament, the Vancouver International in July, which he was invited to by the BCWSA. He just entered the ITF junior rankings this week at world No. 82.
“I feel all right about my game, I like my hits and serves, but I can improve on all of them,” he said about his game right now. “But I probably need to most improve on my speed and turning in the chair.”
The two athletes, who are in grade 11 at school, are enjoying their first nationals and being around the veterans of Canadian wheelchair tennis, like Parapan Am bronze medalist Philippe Bedard.
“At the Kamloops Legacy Games I played doubles with Joel [Dembe] and that was cool, he had a lot of neat tips for me,” Bourassa said. “That was neat, and I’ve always taken in criticism from those guys just because it’s a rare opportunity to learn from them, since many of them live in eastern Canada.”
Venos’ first match was against Bedard, the defending champion and Canada’s No. 1-ranked men’s player. Though Venos predictably lost, he enjoyed the experience of playing the best in the country.
“It was fun to play Philippe, I just wanted to score a couple points on him and that was pretty much it,” he said. “As I play the top players, I’ll learn things from them for sure.”
While neither have specific goals in mind for their infant tennis careers just yet, Bourassa says he’d like to be able to compete at the Paralympics in the future. He currently trains a few times a week on the court in addition to strength training, and Venos hits the practice courts a couple times a week.
With teenaged athletes like Bourassa and Venos showing potential, in addition to the talented young stars coming out of the able-bodied tennis world, like Felix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu, the Canadian tennis future looks rosy.