Following last year’s success of the inaugural competition for Players with an Intellectual Impairment (PWII), Special Olympics Australia athletes have been invited back to the Australian Open Courts this week.
Started as an initiative to open the game of tennis to more members of the community, PWII will run again this year from 26-28 January at the Australian Open.
Five athletes from Special Olympics have been invited by Tennis Australia to compete in the PWII on some of the precinct's biggest courts, alongside another 11 top players with intellectual disability from around the world.
The athletes invited to participate in the event include:
Kelly Wren, a multiple gold medallist in tennis, who has won Most Outstanding Athlete with a Disability at the Newcombe Medal Awards for Tennis Australia.
Carla Lenarduzzia, silver medallist in women’s singles (division 1) in Special Olympics Australia National Games in Adelaide in 2018.
Mitchell James, who won two gold medals in Abu Dhabi in 2019 in the Men's Singles and Mixed Doubles.
Lily Mills, who won gold and bronze medals in tennis for her home country of Great Britain at Special World Games in Berlin.
Sophia Schmidt, who won a silver medal in tennis for her home country, Germany, in singles at Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.
Speaking of her excitement for the event, Sydney local and Special Olympics Australia volunteer-coach, Kelly Wren said “I started playing tennis at eight years old and haven’t looked back since. Through tennis, I’ve been able to travel the world doing what I love and I now coach the next generation of stars. Being invited to play at the PWII as part of the Australian Open, alongside so many other world-class players, will be a sporting highlight this year.”
Victorian-based Carla Lenarduzzia, another internationally-awarded tennis star and Special Olympics Australia athlete, said; “I’m looking forward to playing at this year’s Australian Open. I love representing my country.”
Preceding the PWII matches, Special Olympics Australia CEO, Pierre Comis attended the Open today, alongside 100 athletes and volunteers, who were sitting courtside for the ‘All Abilities Day’. All Abilities Day, which took place yesterday (23rd January), aims to recognise inclusive formats of tennis, and invites people of all abilities to enjoy all that the AO has to offer in a supportive and inclusive environment.
Pierre Comis, Chief Executive Officer at Special Olympics Australia said “The Australian Open is an iconic sporting event loved by tennis fans from across Australia and the world, so it’s great to see Tennis Australia putting inclusivity at the forefront of their event schedule.”
“These events are a great opportunity to showcase the talents of a diverse range of athletes. I hope that anyone watching with an intellectual disability or autism, who may be interested in trying sport but unsure where to start, will be encouraged to pick up a racket.”
To support athletes with intellectual disability and autism, visit www.specialolympics.com.au.