Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with wheelchair tennis player Marc McCarroll...
Marc is one of Great Britain’s leading wheelchair tennis players and looks set to play a starring role for the GB Paralympic team in London this summer.
Having only taken up the sport in 2005 at the age of 20, his progress has been exceptional. Now with seven career world ranking singles titles to his name and 18 in doubles, he has broken into the world top 20 and hopes to make a major impact in both the singles and doubles events.
Born into a family of diehard Gooners – from his mother’s side – the Ickenham-based athlete was a regular at Highbury and gets down to the Emirates when tournament commitments will allow.
So tell us why Arsenal, Marc?
My grandfather used to take my mum and my uncle to Highbury and that side of the family are lifelong fans. My uncle and auntie are current season ticket holders at Emirates. I’d say my dad is an Arsenal supporter now too – my mum is such a big fan he’s basically been dragged into it!
In the time you’ve watched the Gunners are there any matches that particularly stand out?
I used to go to Highbury a lot before I started playing tennis all the time. I’d say the two that stand out from seeing them live are the Juventus match in our last season at Highbury when Cesc Fabregas scored and the match against Liverpool in the unbeaten season when we were behind twice but still won 4-2 thanks to a brilliant Thierry Henry hat-trick.
Tell us how you got into wheelchair tennis?
I had a car accident in 2003 and broke my back and I’m now paralysed from the waist down. Prior to that I played sport all the time – I was a semi-pro footballer and played right back. After the accident it was only natural really that I got back into sport and I tried wheelchair tennis for the first time at the spinal games at Stoke Mandeville in 2005.
I’d never played tennis before the accident, only a knockaround at the park with my mates, but I picked it up really well and after five-and-a-half years I’m No 18 in the world now. I was lucky that my coach actually lived quite close to me. I started hitting with him and it’s progressed from there.
Essentially the rules of wheelchair tennis are the same as able-bodied tennis aren’t they?
They are, but in wheelchair you have two bounces, although a lot of the top guys don’t use two because the chairs are so quick and light that you can get around the court very quickly and it’s better to take the ball early. The chairs that you use are also specially adapted to the game - they need to be very light and manoeuverable.
It must be physically very demanding, so what sort of training do you do?
There’s obviously a lot of technical training with the tennis down at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton. Physically there’s lots of cardio work; sprints, hill work – it’s pretty varied really.
And are GB strong in the sport?
Yes we are, I’m world No 18 and only British No 3 and in the quad discipline we have the world numbers 2, 4 and 6. I’ve just returned from a tournament in Holland and the Dutch are actually the strongest nation but GB are catching them up. It’s certainly growing as a sport in this country.
Back to your sport - what are your chances of making the team next summer?
There are four places for men at the Games and the ITF regulations say you have to be in the top 48 in the world and top four in your country so as it stands I should qualify. I’m a British No 1 doubles player too so I should get in to play both doubles and singles.
I was unfortunate to just miss out on Beijing but I went over there to experience the games and that gave me great focus to get to London, where all my friends and family will be. Ever since London was announced it’s been a huge incentive. When I’m pushing myself around Richmond Park in the cold and wet during training, that’s what keeps me going.
What are you particularly looking forward to about the Games?
Playing in front of a home crowd will be incredible but the opening ceremony is what I’m looking forward to the most. Coming out as the host nation after every other country – in front of 60,000 people. It will be like what the players feel here at the Emirates when they come out of the tunnel, an experience of a lifetime. It will be my first Games, the nerves will be there but I’m hoping to thrive with the backing of all the fans and my friends and family who’ll be down there.