You play tennis for yourself, but such big crowds give you a huge boost
With three Grand Slam singles titles and becoming world number one, 2018 has already been a remarkable year for Diede de Groot (21), a year in which she again made great strides and won more (major) prizes than the year before. To make the season completely unforgettable, De Groot has been training hard for weeks with the aim of retaining her title at the Wheelchair Doubles Masters in Bemmel.
De Groot is world number one and is defending her title in De Schaapskooi in Bemmel, where this year the Dutch wheelchair tennis player is teaming up with the British player Lucy Shuker. Last year she won the title with Marjolein Buis. They beat Aniek van Koot and the German Sabine Ellerbrock in the final.
An unforgettable experience for De Groot, who loved the atmosphere on the day of the final. “The stands were packed. The noise was incredible. It was fantastic to win in such a setting.” As an entirely Dutch team, De Groot and Buis had just a little more support from the crowd in that final than Van Koot on the other side of the net. This year the roles are reversed and De Groot is playing with a non-Dutch partner.
“Looking to Tokyo (2022 Paralympics), Aniek and Marjolein have played together a lot this year and wanted to do so at the Doubles Masters too. I’ve played a lot with Yui Kamiji and Lucy Shuker this year,” says De Groot, who sees Shuker as a special player. “She’s a great touch player, very good at the net. She’s a T4 paraplegic, which means she has less balance and less reach than other players. So she has to solve things rather differently. She gets the best out of the capabilities she has and she’s really good at what she does. I can learn a lot from her and her net play.” The combination with De Groot’s unparalleled power from the back of the court makes the Dutch/British pair a highly dangerous team that will be satisfied with nothing less than the title in Bemmel.
Going up to the net is something that De Groot has been trying to put into practice in her own game this year. “In singles you’re very vulnerable at the net, but it is good to practise it. I’m working really hard on it in training. Lucy is supporting me with it too.” Looking at her own game, De Groot is very satisfied with the progress she has made this year. She says herself that she has become far more aware on court. “Knowing what I am doing and not just hitting the ball as hard as I can,” as she puts it. Becoming ‘more solid’ from the baseline and improving her serve are other key areas. “The serve, there’s still a lot of give in it. I’m working on it so that it becomes a weapon and not just a way of bringing the ball into play. It’s also a question of everything a little bit more and a little bit better.”
Suitcase in the attic
These are aspects of her game that De Groot could have worked on to good effect in the weeks of training leading up to the tournament in Bemmel. Originally, she was going to play another tournament in preparation, but she pulled out because she did not feel she was ‘ready’. A major upside of this was that the wheelchair tennis player from Oudewater was at home for nearly eight weeks in a row. An unprecedented luxury for someone who spends nearly all year living out of her suitcase. “It’s been two years since I was last able to spend so much time at home. It was a really nice time. My suitcase really was in the attic, never in the room, ha-ha. Just my own food, my own bed again. It does you good.”
The support of the crowd
De Groot is very pleased that the Wheelchair Doubles Masters is being held on Dutch soil. “It’s really rare for us to be able to play major tournaments in our home country and so it’s fantastic that the Doubles Masters is going to be held in the Netherlands for the second year in a row. I think it’s great, especially as you can invite your family without having to fly them over. You can invite the sponsors. And I love really feeling the support of the crowd.”
In saying this, De Groot is thinking back to earlier this year, to the evening of June 3th to be precise. That was the evening when the Dutch national team, after a thrilling final against China, won the women’s World Team Cup for the thirtieth time. Play at Sprenkelaar Tennis Club in Apeldoorn went on long into the night.
“The atmosphere was fantastic,” says De Groot. “All those people who stayed to watch were responsible for a huge ‘we’ feeling. Everyone was there to urge us on. It’s great if you can play in that kind of an atmosphere now and again. It’s really quite special. You play tennis for yourself, but such big crowds give you a huge boost. It would be perfect if we could recreate that atmosphere in Bemmel,” says De Groot.