Wheelchair athletes put spin on tennis

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POSTED: Saturday, March 10, 2012 - 10:00pm

UPDATED: Saturday, March 10, 2012 - 10:04pm

Alex Saporito, 14, was born with a birth defect that's left him in a wheelchair. Three years ago, Alex took an interest in tennis, and decided to give the sport a shot.

"I was just sitting there, him dropping the ball and me just barely hitting it," he says of his first few days with wheelchair tennis coach, Carlos Roldan.

Since then, Alex has come a long way. "I've grown a lot," he says. "Now I can go from the east side of the court pretty fast and hit the ball."

Every Saturday, Alex hits the courts for some serious racket action. His dad, Scott, tags along.

"He's the only one in our family who plays tennis, so that's his thing," Scott says. "It's been really good for his confidence."

Right now, Alex is in training mode. He's one of the youngest players entered into the Cajun Classic Wheelchair Tennis Tournament later this month.

"He sees other people playing at a very high level and it gives him something to work towards," Scott explains.

The tournament, presented by the Greater Baton Rouge Community Tennis Association, will host some of the top chair champs in the world towards the end of the month.

"It's inspirational to watch somebody get out there and play tennis from the chair," says tournament director Jennifer Edmonson. "You watch them move and hit the ball and you just can't help, but have respect for them."

Athletes from 21 different countries will head to the capitol city for that massive five-day match. "That's one of the missions of this organization," says Edmonson. "You get the word out that just because you're in a wheelchair doesn't mean you can't do anything."

That is just what Alex loves about the sport. "I can't really do much other than tennis," he says, "but it's exciting to know that I can do this."

The tournament begins March 21st and runs through the 25th. All of the matches will be held on the tennis courts at the Paula G. Manship YMCA. Admission is free.

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