Wheelchair tennis star set for Craiglockhart

His profile may not be as high as compatriots Colin Fleming or the Murray brothers but for the past decade Kevin Simpson has been a tennis globe-trotter reaching No. 34 in the world.

What sets Kevin, originally from Falkirk but now living in Dollar, apart is the fact that he has done his competing from a wheelchair and this weekend, after a journey that has taken him from the Beijing Paralympics to New Zealand to Chile to South Africa and all parts, he finally gets the opportunity to serve and volley on a home court at Craiglockhart.

The 36-year-old is the star entry and principal challenger to holder Peter Moore in the third annual tournament promoted by the Winning Wheels club.

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And, according to Kevin, the event, which has attracted entries from throughout the UK, with organiser David Hogg carrying Capital hopes, will also be a celebration.

Says Kevin: “On Wednesday Gordon Reid, from Helensburgh, was named ITF Player of the Year.

“Gordon has helped put wheelchair tennis on the map and we hope to carry on that work with a tournament that will also feature a junior round robin event before the finals on Sunday lunchtime.”

Marriage last year and the impending arrival of a new baby have contributed to Simpson cutting back on his schedule but he has instead thrown himself into tennis coaching and is in the process of completing a level three coaching qualification which will also see him assist able-bodied players.

“I would be delighted to coach any player but I will get a special buzz out of trying to introduce more wheelchair competitors to tennis,” he says. Simpson’s involvement began after he was severely injured when, working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, a loose metal plate fell on him from 90 feet, breaking his back, legs, ankles, ribs and shoulder as well as rupturing his spleen and puncturing a lung.

Eventually transferred to the Scottish Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow he spotted a fellow patient with a tennis racket and half-jokingly asked ‘where are you going with that?’

Says Kevin: “I was introduced to playing from a wheelchair on the same gymnasium court I go back to regularly now to assist the current patients.”

To sharpen up for the Edinburgh event, Simpson travelled to Sunderland last month and reached the final of the doubles and singles quarter-final.

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However, hopes of a role in last year’s London Paralympics were cruelly dashed.

Recalled Kevin: “I am able to stand but have to lock back my left leg to do so. Unfortunately a dog ran in to me and that resulted in a fracture the day before my wedding!

“It also meant having to withdraw from being a hitting partner for competitors in London although I was still able to 
attend and marvel at the Games.”

Organiser Hogg, whose involvement began when he was injured in a motor cycle accident, believes the tournament, sponsored by Awards for All and Activity, will be boosted by the Paralympics.

“There is more activity at Winning Wheels and the aim is to get the tournament on the ITF circuit. At the moment, we are at the proving stage in looking to persuade our name to be put forward and will need to be able to guarantee a minimum $2000 dollars prize fund.

“This weekend will hopefully be a move in that direction.”

Andrew Raitt, Tennis Scotland development officer, adds: “Two years ago Scotland’s only wheelchair tennis club was in Edinburgh. Now there are four others around the country helped by donations from a charitable trust set up in memory of the late commentator and player, Dan Maskell.”