When Robbie Thomas glances up at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center during the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, he often sees fans inside gazing down at the match he is playing on one of the outdoor courts adjacent to the facility.
Thomas can show the curious onlookers a style they cannot see from Andre Agassi or Yevgeny Kafelnikov. He is one of 42 players competing in the Wheelchair Tennis Classic.
A physical education teacher at Park Ridge Elementary School, Stafford County resident Thomas, 36, relishes the high-profile venue given wheelchair tennis. He has participated in the tournament 14 of its 15 years and is hoping for a strong showing today in the championship round.
"A lot of people stop on the way in and watch two, three, four games," Thomas said. "To hear the comments of the spectators behind the fence, like, 'That's amazing. I would have never thought anybody could do that from a wheelchair.' The exposure is awesome."
Wheelchair tennis has benefited from technological improvements, such as angled wheels and a small wheel at the front, that offer greater maneuverability.
Rules in wheelchair tennis differ only slightly. For example, the ball can bounce twice before a return.
"The equipment they use has gotten so much better and lighter," said tournament director Howard Grunfeld, a doubles participant. "These chairs will allow you to move on a dime and switch directions."
Doubles Final Is Set
The doubles team of John-Laffnie de Jager and David Adams defeated Donald Johnson and Cyril Suk, 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3, to advance to the final. Adams and de Jager shook off the tiebreaker loss in the second set to reach their fourth ATP tournament final of the year. They will play for the title today against Justin Gimelstob and Sebastian Lareau, who notched a 6-4, 6-2 win over Piet Norval and Kevin Ullyett. . . .
George C. Branche, who has served as the tournament doctor for the last seven years and is based in Arlington, has been named the ATP Tour physician of the year. . . . Among the spectators yesterday were Secretary of Defense William Cohen and District Mayor Anthony Williams.
Staff writer Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.