Photograph by Luciano Graca
By Luciano Graca
Gordon Reid is the world’s number three and British number one wheelchair tennis player. On the way to one of his training sessions at Scotstoun Leisure Centre, I checked his Twitter account so I could do some last-minute preparation for our interview.
A tweet posted at 6am that day, (accompanying a selfie where he looked as though he had just got out of bed), spoke of the inconvenience of receiving a visit of the anti-doping doctor so early. One of the dubious perks of the job.
At that point, not knowing much about Reid apart from what I had gathered in my research, (he started playing tennis when he was 6, contracted transverse myelitis at 13 and won his first wheelchair tennis title six weeks after leaving the hospital), I thought that perhaps I would be meeting with someone in a very bad mood due his early rise.
Reid’s training session that morning with coach Karen Ross lasted for almost two hours. He trains five to six days a week mixing the gym, tennis court and wheelchair basketball. I arrived halfway through his training session.
As soon as I entered the complex with the tennis courts, the very loud noise of tennis balls being hit thumped into my ears and as I approached the court I realized that Reid was the one hitting them. I thought to myself, “The guy is either irritated for being awake too early this morning, or he is a much better tennis player than I thought.” The latter proved to be the case.
Reid is left-handed and has a very powerful hit combined with an incredible control of the chair. He is precise and fast with his movements placing ball after ball with perfection on the opposite side of the net, making it easy to understand why this 22-year-old Scot is on the run to become the world’s number one.
At the end of the session, we started our chat. I asked him about his main objectives for 2014.
“I got in number three in the world ranking-wise from January, so my aim is to try to get higher than that by the end of the year.
The top two players in the world have been dominating for the last few years. Hopefully I can try to break that dominance a little bit and also win my first Grand Slam title in either singles or doubles.
“Last year was the first time that I qualified for a Grand Slam event so hopefully I can try to get the title down this year”, he said.
Today’s training is part of the preparation for a short US tour where Reid is competing in two tournaments: the Cajun Classic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Florida’s Pensacola Open (Reid ended up winning both tournaments with another outstanding performance). The events, organised by the International Tennis Federation are part of the ITF1 series.
“The way our grading for the tournaments are divided is: the Grand Slam, as the highest ranked, and then goes to Sub Series, ITF1, ITF2, ITF3 and ITF-Future. Cajun Classic and Pensacola Open are a third tier tournament so it will be quite strong, quite a few good players are going, it will be quite tough”, he said.
By maintaining his position on the rank and “if no disasters happen”, he will qualify for all of the Grand Slams of the season: US Open, Australia Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. The tournament at SW19 is a doubles category only, due to the grass surface not being ideal for the wheelchair. There are talks for this to change in future because of controversy around the subject.
For Reid, Wimbledon is close to heart and home: “Growing up as a kid being a tennis fan, Wimbledon was the tournament that everybody watched.
“It’s the one that I have seen the childhood hero players playing and winning. So to be able to compete singles wise in front the home crowd there, would be pretty cool”, he said.
With a full calendar ahead that takes him to compete in tournaments around the world, Reid said that the lifestyle his profession provides “can be really fun.” For someone at his age it’s a great opportunity to go to “some really cool places” and get the chance to meet and play alongside famous tennis players.
“It is not always as glamorous as it sounds because most of the time you are just in the airport, in the hotels and in the tennis court… you hope to be in the event until the final days and therefore not have any time off.”
I wondered if he gets homesick after all this travelling.
“Yeah I do. Not as much as I used to when I was younger. I used to miss home quite a lot and get quite homesick but I’ve been doing this for almost six years now, so I’m kind of used to the lifestyle at the moment.”
Reid grew up in Helensburgh, the seaside town on the north shore of the Firth of Clyde, home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh famous design the Hill House. The passion for tennis started early. “I first started playing tennis when I was six years old at my local club in Helensburgh with my family”, he remembered.
It was also at an early age, 13, that Reid contracted a rare neurological condition involving inflammation of the spinal cord, a defined turning point in his life.
“For me there were no warnings when transverse myelitis developed. I tried to stand up from a chair and my legs just gave way. I initially thought I just had bad cramps because I had been playing football the day before. The next day I gradually lost all my feeling and sensation from my waist downwards and was taken to hospital that night. After about a week of scans and tests they diagnosed me with TM”, he said.
When he got out of the hospital a couple of weeks later, Reid wanted to get back into sports. He found out about wheelchair tennis and went to a session at Scotstoun Leisure Centre.
After that first session Reid started playing tennis because he “missed sport and wanted to regain my fitness and stay active.” The more he played, the more he improved. “It was then that I began to realise that I could play tennis at high level”, he said.
He recently moved to Glasgow due to training commitments and is really excited about the Commonwealth Games, even though he will not be competing, as tennis is not part of the programme. Conscious about the positive effect sports can have to young people’s lives and the uncountable benefits it can bring to Glasgow, he added:
“To have that in your home city I think is going to be amazing and also it should be a really positive effect in terms of to get young people more active and doing different sports.”
On his down time away from the court he likes to spend time with friends and family, doing the “usual stuff like going to the cinema or watching a football game”. Reid is a passionate Rangers supporter.
As our chat drew to an end I asked him what’s next.
“Rio 2016. There’s obviously a really long time to go and a lot of tournaments in between but Rio is a big target of mine. I’m hopefully going to try and get a medal in Rio. I’m number three in the world at the moment, two and a half years to go and the guys ahead of me are older than me, so hopefully I will be in a strong position to try a medal there.”
Follow Luciano on Twitter: @Lutadeux