With the excitement of the Australian Open 2024 still with us, we pay tribute to the trailblazers of the sport of Blind and Low Vision Tennis. Vision Store interviews Grace Hobbs, a Life Ready Hub Administrator Graduate and a double gold medallist in blind tennis.
Please tell us about yourself and how your tennis journey started.
Grace: I was born deaf and have cochlear implants, along with retinitis pigmentosa that caused a gradual deterioration of my vision over time. My visual challenges became particularly apparent during my high school years, especially when training outdoors at night with insufficient lighting. While I enjoyed playing conventional tennis on a casual basis during school, the worsening of my vision during the COVID-19 pandemic made it increasingly difficult to track the ball. It was then that my mother discovered blind tennis and suggested I give it a try.
Can you share your personal experience with using audible tennis balls in blind tennis? How have they influenced your gameplay and overall experience on the court?
Grace: Due to my hearing impairment, I rely on the size of the ball rather than its bells. Audible tennis balls have made an enormous difference in my gameplay. They're softer and have less bounce compared to traditional tennis balls, which makes them much easier for me to track.
Prior to the availability of audible tennis balls, what challenges did you face in tracking and responding to traditional tennis balls during matches or practice?
Grace: Tracking the ball was extremely challenging, especially when it was hit hard or when strong winds were in play. I often missed the ball entirely or could only manage a partial hit. This was frustrating and discouraging, which made me hesitant to continue playing.
How did you first learn about Vision Australia's initiative to stock audible tennis balls for blind tennis players, and what was your initial reaction?
Grace: At the time, I was volunteering at Vision Australia and assisting with stocking their store when I came across the audible tennis balls. I was thrilled! I recognized that this would be a game-changer for blind tennis players, including myself.
How has audible tennis balls made playing blind tennis easier for you and others in the blind tennis community?
Grace: The availability of affordable and durable audible tennis balls has made a significant difference. It has encouraged more people to try blind tennis, resulting in a more competitive game. Moreover, it has allowed me to connect with individuals who share my vision impairment. Organizations like Vision Australia are making playing sports more accessible to people with vision impairments, enabling us to partake in sports and reap the physical and social benefits they offer.
What’s been your toughest match so far?
Grace: My most challenging match was against an opponent who had played tennis before losing his vision. He had an excellent serve that required me to move strategically and place my shots carefully. Unfortunately, I lost the match, but it was an enjoyable and valuable experience.
What other products do you use from the Vision Australia store?
Grace: Apart from audible tennis balls, I occasionally use a cane when needed. Additionally, I find the kitchen scales and measuring jugs from the Vision Australia store, with their high-contrast markings, to be very useful!
As a spokesperson for blind tennis and accessibility in sports, how would you encourage other visually impaired individuals?
Grace: I would encourage everyone to give blind tennis a try. It's a fun and challenging sport suitable for people of all ages and abilities. Audible tennis balls have made it easy for those with vision impairments to participate and connect with others facing similar challenges.
Any final thoughts or messages you would like to share?
Grace: I would like to remind people that having a vision impairment should not limit your aspirations. Nothing is impossible; do not give up on your dreams.
All images featured in this article copyright Blind Sports Australia.
Discover more about Blind Tennis
You can find your nearest blind and low vision tennis location by visiting the Tennis Australia website.
Watch this short video about this fast-growing game.
Blind Tennis Ambassadors from Tennis Victoria.