GORDON Reid is back where it all got started. The Rio Olympic gold 
medallist and eight-time Grand Slam winner sprung a surprise last night when he dropped in to the distinctly unglamorous surroundings of the West of Scotland wheelchair tennis training group at the Scotstoun Leisure Centre. 

The big idea is to provide the same inspiration to the next generation of aspiring wheelchair tennis players which he found when he first alighted at this same training group at the age of 13. That was shortly after being struck down by a rare spinal condition called transverse myelitis and being told he would never walk again.

“It was right after my illness when I first went there,” said Reid, formerly a talented able-bodied player of the sport.

“I must have been 13 but I trained there for a number of years and it was a really important time for me, because it was my first experience of the sport. And the fact it was such a fun and positive one made me want to go back and do the sport even more. That first impression can mean a lot.

“I had tried playing wheelchair basketball, gone to a basketball session, and for whatever reason they hadn’t let me join in,” recalled the 25-year-old, who retained his Wimbledon doubles title with Alfie Hewett this summer.

“For whatever reason, they said, ‘Just watch’. So I was a bit hesitant, and thought it might be the same thing with the tennis. But I turned up, they found me a chair, just shoved a racket in my hand and said, ‘Away you go’.

“Straight away I was involved in the action, involved in the group. I 
remember just really enjoying it straight away and just wanting to go back the next weekend. It was quite daunting at first but it was also exciting. I was there as part of the junior group to start with but when we finished up the senior guys would come in and you could see how fast they were moving on the court, how good their mobility was. I knew it was possible for me, and now I had something to work towards.”

More and more people are alive to what the wheelchair form of the sport has to offer - hardly a surprise when you consider the incredible mixture of skill, strength and endurance which elite performers like Reid display to maintain high octane rallies whilst relying only on their upper body strength to propel themselves to and fro. The 25-year-old, who recently signed a kit deal with Japanese sportswear giant Uniqlo, has been a big part of this public awakening and hopes he can use his celebrity to set someone else on their path.

“Hopefully I will have helped out someone the same way that they helped me out all those years ago,” said Reid. “You have to appreciate what helped you when you started, the little things that would have given you a boost back then. If I can be one of the ones who does that now, hopefully it will mean a lot to the youngsters. 

“It is great to get a chance to go back down there and surprise a few of the kids,” he added. “I can give them a few tips, and get a hit with them. The group is coached by Kevin Simpson who is one of the guys who I trained with when I first started. He was a Paralympian in Beijing. While I have not been to this session for years I have kept in touch with it through Kev, who is still a friend of mine. He tells me about the levels some of these boys and girls are at and it was good to see exactly how much talent there is coming through. Kev tells me to watch my back, because they are coming for me!

“In general, I think people hold para sports in Scotland in higher regard these days, they know it is an elite sport, not just a charity thing. I guess I have been part of that movement but plenty of others have been as well.” 

It is back to the big time soon enough for Reid, who jets out to New York in seven days’ time for the US Open, although ironically prize money for the wheelchair events at the US Open and Australian Opens lags behind that at Wimbledon and Roland Garros. Currently the world’s No.2 singles player, Reid hopes to add the US Open crown to his 2016 singles titles in Wimbledon and Roland Garros, and is defending his doubles’ title – secured alongside Stephane Houdet – here from 2015. The event wasn’t played last year as it coincided with Rio.

“In terms of prize money, Roland Garros and Wimbledon are miles ahead,” he said. “But they have had some matches on the [Louis] Armstrong court so in that respect they showcase it quite well. It will be 
interesting to see how we get treated this year. In general hard courts are the surface everyone has played on a bit more. Quite a few players will feel pretty confident but I am looking forward to the challenge. I am going to make sure I have fun – the reason I did so well last year was because I enjoyed myself and played with freedom.”

Gordon Reid was speaking in his role as an ambassador for McCrea Financial Services. The Glasgow-based advisers are committed to long, term sustainable planning, for individuals, businesses, professional athletes, and charities.