Peter took up wheelchair tennis after watching a demonstration at Stoke Mandeville following a motorcycle accident in 1979. Peter competed in the inaugural Quad Singles Paralympic Wheelchair Tennis Competition in 2004 in Athens, winning the gold medal in singles and the silver medal in doubles. Peter defended his gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Beijing and won the bronze in the doubles.

At the London 2012 Paralympic Games Peter had the honour of leading the Great Britain team into the Opening Ceremony as the flagbearer before winning a silver medal in the Quad Doubles.

Peter has had a glittering career and has won six quad singles wheelchair events at Grand Slams with victories including the US Open in 2007 and 2009 and the Australian Open in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. He was instrumental in Great Britain winning the Quad title at the ITF World Team Cup, the Davis and Fed Cups of wheelchair tennis, on three occasions in 2001, 2002 and 2009.

In April 2017 Peter was inducted into the Stoke Mandeville Hall of Fame.

Interviews with Peter Norfolk

The beginning of his wheelchair tennis career

Interviewer Jon Newman, June 2013

At the end of the day I played sport. I tried archery and we did field shooting and all sorts of things. I think it was a case of... I did swimming, I tried water skiing, I went scuba diving... I tried lots and lots of things, but it wasn’t until I actually saw tennis being played and I realised that tennis could be played - that was my “light bulb” moment for me.

Wheelchair tennis was still a very new sport in 1990?

I just saw a demonstration sport at Stoke Mandeville; I think we had six players. Jayant was one of our founders, Jayant Mistry, and obviously went on to be a fantastic tennis player. We didn’t have many but we had lots of enthusiastic people who wanted to increase it, improve it, bring it out to the wider public and, to be fair, we’re still doing that. I still meet people who don’t realise that you can play wheelchair tennis. You know, what’s so difficult, tennis court, tennis racquet and a tennis ball; whether you’re standing up or sitting down, it’s the same game.

I tried all the other sports and tennis became a release; it still is a release. It’s a pleasure to be able to go onto a tens court and play for fun or competitively against anyone, standing up or sitting down. When I first saw tennis, on the tennis court at Stoke next to the mortuary – which was a great place for it to be, on some days – and I came back home and I went to my local courts, an indoor court, and there was guy there, coaching, my first coach, Lieutenant Colonel Christie, and I basically, when he finished his lesson, I went to see him and I said, “I want you to coach me for tennis.” And he looked at me, my chair and sort of went “Never done that before.” And I went, “It’s tennis, you know” And he sort of said “Are you any good?” And I said, “Not yet, but I’m gonna be”. That’s essentially how I started, and I went to see Roger; the beauty of Roger also was, having come out of the army – and he’d had some pretty amazing experiences – his internal philosophy was also “not give up”, so when I... we were training and we’d be doing certain things and I’d be going “I can’t do that” and he’d go [shaking head] “That’s not in my vocabulary. That doesn’t compute”. So then it was, ok, my disability says that I can’t do this. So he says well ok, let’s find a way of seeing if we can make you do it. So it was quite good in the beginning to have Roger because he came from outside and didn’t know anything about disability. He questioned everything; and I thought that was quite instrumental in how I started because it made me question - and it still does, I still question – so instead of going “Oh no, I just can’t do that”. It’s, “Oh, I might be able to if I did this”. And that’s what the youngsters miss too because they then don’t have the benefit of my experience or the older athletes’ experience.

In tennis when you hit a back hand you really need to turn into the court and not turn away; and it was a case of finding a way to turn into the court – because then you don’t lose sight of the ball or the court – and keep the speed up. It is easier to turn out (sometimes it’s faster) but you lose sight of the ball and the court. So we worked on certain things; and it’s not easy by any means, even something as simple as that. That’s the sort of thing you need a coach or whatever; someone to come in and start picking holes in things.

The circuit was just starting. There were obviously very few tournaments; and the National Wheelchair Tennis Association was just starting – and didn’t have many members either – and it was all very much about finding places to play and finding other guys in wheelchairs to play with. Essentially it just progressed from there. We used to go into Fulham ‘cos the courts were free and we played come wind, rain sunshine, snow whatever.

The differences between professional tennis and the Paralympic Games

Download a pdf of Peter's full interview here