This week the annual Deaf Awareness Week coincides with the Slovenia Deaf Open, where World and European medallist Phoebe Suthers will fly the flag for Britain.
Phoebe’s love for tennis began at the age of eight in school PE lessons, with her school subsequently suggesting she attend ‘come & try’ sessions at Huddersfield Lawn Tennis and Squash Club to further nurture her talent.
Although born deaf the Elland youngster was already part of junior squads at her home tennis centre when, in 2013, her mum saw an advert about deaf tennis. Together they attended a Tennis Foundation Deaf Tennis Camp and later that year Phoebe competed in her first National Deaf Tennis Championships, where she met Catherine Fletcher, the Tennis Foundation’s National Deaf Tennis Coach.
“That weekend I played some tennis and watched Cathy, who has been a great inspiration to me. I enjoyed the weekend so much I just wanted to play more and more. Tennis allows me to keep fit while doing something I enjoy and I’ve also learnt so many skills around discipline, professionalism and about life and sport in general.” says Phoebe.
“I don’t know where to start with the difference tennis has made to my life. I’ve made some amazing friends, both hearing and deaf, and I enjoy socialising and playing tennis with them.”
Aged just 12, Phoebe joined the Tennis Foundation’s Deaf Tennis Performance Programme in 2015 and made her Great Britain debut at the 1st World Deaf Tennis Championships in Nottingham, where she won the Under 18 girls’ bronze medal. A year later she returned from the 2016 European Deaf Championships in Portoroz, Slovenia, with silver medals from her girls’ singles and doubles events and her first international gold medal after partnering fellow Brit Esah Hayat to win the Under 18 mixed doubles.
While the international deaf tennis calendar continues to evolve, Phoebe is also making great strides in competition against her hearing peers and tennis ensures she has a busy schedule alongside monthly National Deaf Tennis Squad training.
“I just love competing and to play for GB at World and European level and win medals in Slovenia was something very special that I will never forget.”
“I was also part of the Yorkshire Under 14s County Cup winning team in hearing tennis. Given the strength of the county this was brilliant to be part of and to win my matches at that level. I’ve also got numerous titles at Grade 3 standard in junior and ladies’ hearing events and I’m now winning matches in Grade 2s.”
“I compete or train most days. I normally compete on a weekend and in school holidays and train during the week. I have a couple of squads during the week and a lesson with my coach Matt Smith, who has improved my game massively since he joined the club. I’m also part of the local academy and train with them Tuesday afternoons and I’m grateful that my school, Brooksbank, allow me to do this,” says Phoebe.”
On the back of her triple medal success in Portoroz in 2016, Phoebe is understandably looking forward to returning to the same venue this week with National Deaf Tennis Coach Catherine Fletcher.
“I’m really excited about my return to Slovenia for the deaf tennis open. I’ve good memories of Slovenia and enjoy playing on clay. I’ve had a couple of injuries before other competitions, but this time I’m fully fit. I feel really settled with my game right now so I’m really looking forward to the tournament.
“I’m very focussed on enjoying my tennis and doing the best I can. I get wonderful help from Matt (coach), Craig (hitting partner), Cathy Fletcher, and Becky (former coach) and also the Huddersfield Club…..they are all brilliant. Who knows what the future holds, but I do know I want to be Deaflympics and World Champion at deaf tennis and to win a Grade 2 competition in hearing tennis,” says Phoebe.
All young athletes need the support of family and friends to help them further their ambitions and Phoebe says her parents are a huge inspiration – along with a couple of notable Wimbledon champions. Andy Murray and Roger Federer are firm favourites.
“I look up to my mum and dad and sister out of sport and enjoy being with my family and friends. My mum is always there for me and I really appreciate this and my dad is great for taking me long distances when I need to get somewhere for my tennis! I also admire Roger Federer as a player. He never gives up and he’s very fair and professional.”
As we enter Deaf Awareness Week, Phoebe has some solid advice for other young players and anyone who is deaf or who has a hearing impairment and has yet to try tennis.
“Give tennis a go, there’s no harm in trying and I’m sure you’ll find all the things I’ve found that are great about the sport. Get involved and meet people. I’ve got to visit places I wouldn’t otherwise have been to. All the support is there for you through the Tennis Foundation and Cathy Fletcher is great. She’s deaf and she’s been there and done it, so what more could you ask for.
“When I was born deaf I never imagined I’d be living such a great life and my parents didn’t, either. Tennis has brought me more opportunities so it’s lucky I played tennis at school back when I was eight.”