British wheelchair tennis player Andy Lapthorne says events are being organised by people “who don’t have a clue about disability and don’t ask us questions”.
He was one of a number of players who forced US Open organisers into a U-turn over the inclusion of wheelchair events at this year’s tournament after they were initially omitted.
He told the BBC’s Stumps, Wheels and Wobblies podcast that ableism – where there is discrimination in favour of non-disabled people – is an issue.
Lapthorne, the winner of 11 Grand Slam titles and the current world number two in the quad division, added: “The reason given to us at the start was that it wasn’t thought that people with disabilities would travel in a pandemic, but we as players weren’t consulted.
“The top eight men, women and quad players are full-time professional wheelchair tennis players, but we were put in the same bracket with juniors, who don’t get prize money, and with legends, who are retired and playing exhibition tennis, and even getting compared to beach tennis.
“It felt like a massive step backwards, but we had great support from the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, and at the end of the day we went out there and proved we are part of the tennis community.”
Lapthorne also told the podcast, in an interview to mark International Day of People with Disabilities, that the increased profile of wheelchair tennis had had a negative impact on his mental health.
After finishing runner-up in the quad singles at October’s French Open, he took a break from the game but hopes to return to competition in the new year.
“Earlier this year, I got to world number one, which was my end goal – but sometimes the worst thing you can do is achieve your dream,” he explained.
“After that I was a bit lost and didn’t know what to do or where to go next, and then lockdown happened.
“When we came out of lockdown, I went to the US Open and then went to Roland Garros and it got a bit too much for me, if I’m honest.
“We are integrated into the Grand Slams and there is more media presence, big prize money, more people watching on TV and a massive social media presence.
“When I lost to Dylan Alcott in the Australian Open final in January, I got a lot of messages on social media from people who had probably gambled on me and lost money.
“As a sport, we have had such a fast rise and I’ve had to deal with things that I didn’t have to do when I started.
“I realised I needed a bit of a break and time away to try to reflect and see where I am at.
“Social media is tough at times when you have a disability. I’m quite strong on trying to act as normal as possible and try to be positive but sometimes when you are getting those messages it can be tough to deal with.”
Meanwhile, fellow GB player Jordanne Whiley says she will skip the Australian Open which is due to take place in January.
Whiley gave birth to son Jackson in January 2018 and returned to action early the following year. Although she played in Melbourne at the start of this year, winning the women’s doubles with Japanese partner Yui Kamiji, she says she will not defend her title.
“It was a really difficult decision to miss out because I love the tournament, but I can’t justify being away from Jackson for three weeks with the quarantine restrictions,” she explained.
“I’d have missed his birthday, which is something which you can’t get back. There will be other Grand Slams so I will take the hit on this one.”