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INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS FOR CHRIS BAILY

In early May Sound Tennis Sussex's Chris Baily played for Great Britain in the inaugural International Blind Tennis Tournament in Spain. Chris was ecstatic to win the mens B3 singles competition and be crowned world champion and world number one.

Chris was diagnosed with the genetic degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa ten years ago. A keen tennis player since his teens, Chris's ever worsening eyesight led him to try out blind tennis for the first time in the summer of 2014. The people Chris met were so warm and supportive, he was encouraged to take part in that year's British national championships at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.

Chris performed very well, winning the menís doubles and finishing runner up in the mens B3 singles. He repeated this feat in 2015 and went one better in 2016, winning both the doubles and the singles to become British champion for the very first time. This victory enabled Chris to be selected to represent his country in the International Blind Tennis Tournament.

The tournament in Spain was unlike any other tournament. Before matches could start, all players had to take part in sight tests and tennis skills tests. The sight tests mainly consisted of the usual acuity and field tests, and were to ensure that all players were competing in the correct categories. For the tennis skills tests, all the players were asked to hit forehands, backhands, serves and rally with a coach while the coaches scored each player out of ten. These scores were used to create seedings for the tournament, thus ensuring none of the groups had all the stronger players in them.

Chris must have performed well in his skills tests, as his two round robin group matches, both against Australians, were won 4-0 with relative ease. He was also due to play an Italian, but sadly that opponent had to withdraw before the match due to injury.

This meant that Chris topped his group and went on to play the second placed player from the other group, Wally Roode from Ireland. Chris started well and raced to a 3-0 lead, but as his intensity dropped Wally got back into the match at 3-2. Chris recovered his form and secured a place in the final with a 6-3 victory in what many people were saying was the match of the tournament!

In the final Chris faced the top player from the other group, Poland's Grzegorz Korpinski, who was also unbeaten on course to the final. The match got off to a nervous start from both players, but Grzegorz found his form first to win the first set 4-2. At 2-2 in the second set Chris got a crucial break of serve on sudden death deuce and then held his serve to take the set 4-2 and force a third set champions tie break to decide the championship.

Chris made a strong start to the champions tie break and quickly gained a 3-0 lead. This lead was not able to be extended and the score became 7-5 to Chris. Chris increased his lead to 9-5, bringing up 4 championship points. Chris was overjoyed to win the match on his first championship point with a cross court backhand for a clean winner, becoming Great Britain's first ever Blind Tennis World Champion and World Number 1!

Chris Bailyon podium  with World champion medal

Photo courtesy of Tennis Foundation

The tournament was a great success in many ways. In addition to the personal achievements of Chris, team GB had a runner-up and 4th and 5th places in the ladies competitions. There was also a true worldwide feel to the tournament, with 62 players representing 12 countries from Australia, Mexico, Asia and Europe.

As this was the first time any of the players had played people not from their country it was fantastic to hear so many positive conversations about how the countries would like to play more international matches, maybe tennis camps or mini tournaments or even continental championships. As the first international blind tennis tournament, everyone agreed that they really hoped they could look back on this and say they were part of an instrumental step in growing the sport into a Paralympic sport.