Jayant Mistry first played Paralympic tennis at the Barcelona games in 1992 and retired after the Athens games in 2004. He won 68 International career titles including the inaugural Wimbledon Doubles Championships and Doubles Masters both in 2005.

Interview with Jayant Mistry

Interviewer Klara Janicki, February 2013

What brought you to sport, Jayant?

Well for me sport has been a big part of my life ever since I was at school. I enjoyed it; I went to what they call a special school, so all the people that I was with were all disabled children anyway. As I was growing up, I played football, cricket, table tennis, swimming, lots and lots of other sports. I loved it, because it meant that you mixed in with everybody else. We then went to Stoke Mandeville as a team. We were one of the junior teams down there, and from there it really grew to a kind of competition. As I got older I then started to play wheelchair basketball, and then after playing wheelchair basketball I then saw a demonstration of wheelchair tennis. And then I thought well, this would be a fantastic sport to play in the summertime. So in the wintertime I played basketball and in the summertime I played tennis, and as the sport grew bigger, I then started playing wheelchair tennis all year round, and had a fantastic career after that.  

Did you face any difficulties with the sport? You mentioned you played for only 7 years professionally.

So when I first started playing it wasn’t easy, but then I was very lucky, because of the job I was doing, I was working full time, but it was flexible, so I used to do shifts, I used to do 7.00 till 3.00 or 2.00 till 10.00, and that enabled me to then train in the time when I wasn’t actually working. Plus the sport of wheelchair tennis is actually very integrated, so I didn’t necessarily have to have a tennis coach with me, I could go out and play with friends and family. So I could spend ten-fifteen hours on a tennis court, just playing tennis with able-bodied friends of mine, so that made it cheaper for me and I didn’t have to go to a tennis club, I could go just play on a public courts. So from my house here in Leicester I used to push up to the local park, Victoria Park up in Leicester,  and to go to play with a friend of mine;  we would just spend the whole afternoon just playing tennis. So for me, it was a kind of like – if you want to play the top end now, there is a lot of investment that you have to do to get the right equipment, the right coaches and turn up at the right tournaments, but in order to actually play the game on a basic level you don’t need to have everything else in place - you need a racket, you need a chair, you need a court.

How did it happen that you decided to do tennis professionally?

Within tennis I just kind of took it up, because when I was actually growing up the sport was quite young and there were only probably 10-12 tournaments a year and then as I got better the sport got bigger, so the two things kind of went hand in hand. In the old days when I was actually first starting playing there, you only ever played in one wheelchair. So to then go from that, to when in early 90s people started having two wheelchairs and then started having more camber on the chair, and then having a wheel on the back…I feel very fortunate in that that I was kind of part of the evolution of the sport as well, I got dragged up as the sport got bigger and bigger, and now as you see it on the Wheelchair Tennis Tour or Paralympics or any Grand Slam event, the sport now is a lot different to how it was when I got involved. 

And I am not sure  people even then knew how big the sport was gonna be, even in the old days there wasn’t anything like prize money - which we kind of take for granted nowadays - so you were doing it for the love of the sport because you wanted to actually be the best that you could be. You know, where it has got to now, is a massive sport, there is 140 tournaments, it is integrated into all four of the Grand Slam events, and it’s one of the biggest sports of the Paralympics. So to actually see where it was then -  a small group of people who were doing it because they loved it - to a professional tour that people are doing because they are actually making a living out of it - it has really been a big transformation.

What about the connection between sport and your disability? You haven’t mentioned that part...

I don’t even think about it. For me it is just part of who I am. For me having a tennis wheelchair is like a cyclist having a cycle, it is just a piece of equipment that you use. And once you are actually in the chair, you’ve got the right setting and your right strapping and everything else that just becomes a natural part of it. So when you are teaching people, whether it’s in basketball, tennis or anything else, you have to be able to learn to control the chair and things like that. I don’t see a disability, but that’s mainly because I was born disabled, so it has always been a part of me. And all you do is you adapt the world to you. Yes there is always gonna be challenges around that and peoples’ attitude and perceptions and everything else, but that is something that you can´t control anyway. All you can control is the way you look at life and the way that you approach life. I think it is up to people themselves to go out and to achieve what they want to do.   There’s always gonna be barriers in the way, but how do you actually get around it, it’s a personal journey. For me I was born this way, so this is the way the world is, I can’t change everything else around it but what I can change is my attitude towards what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, you know, you are not always going to achieve what you want to, but it’s about the journey that you are taking rather than the actual end goal sometimes. 

Download a pdf of Jayant's full interview here