Helicopter triggers emotional scenes at wheelchair tennis

The 2018 Invictus Games wheelchair tennis got underway on Monday at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre in front of a capacity crowd, which got to witness an extraordinary moment of teamwork and human compassion.

The first match of the day saw an experienced United States duo of Austin Chance Field and Brian Williams take on a team from Unconquered, made up of competitors from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Team USA took an early lead in the match but momentum swung and they soon found themselves in a nail-biting tiebreaker to decide the match.

As things began reaching a crescendo, play was interrupted by the sound of a helicopter flying overhead.

It caused the UK competitor Paul Guest to become visibly affected, triggering emotions deep within him so much he was unable to complete his serve.

His Dutch partner Edwin Vermetten immediately saw Guest struggling and rushed from the other side of the court to comfort him.

Vermetten grabbed his teammate by the shoulders and pulled their foreheads together in an emotional display of camaraderie.

They remained in an embrace as they spoke to each other. The raw moment left spectators and supporters in tears.

In a truly Invictus Games moment, Guest regrouped to deliver the match-winning serve for a 7-5 5-7 (11-9 tiebreak) win.

Speaking with reporters after their triumph, Vermetten revealed it was the theme song to Disney movie, Frozen, that broke the tension from the helicopter noise.

“I took him by the face and said ‘Look at me. We are a team so let it go,” said Vermetten.

“Look into my eyes and sing the ‘Frozen’ song, and we did.

“For him, this was the moment he let go, and he did, he literally let it all go.”

After the emotion of that match evaporated, the next teams on court were traditional trans-Tasman rivals in all sports, Australia and New Zealand.

The friendly crowd was full of banter between the neighbouring nations.

Australian Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove made an unexpected appearance to cheer on competitors and made a particular effort to speak to ball-kids, thanking them for volunteering at the Games.

Other familiar faces in the crowd included Prince Harry’s favourite fan, Daphne Dunn, who continued to steal the show at the tennis after visiting the cycling on Sunday.

Spectators and volunteers alike asked for selfies.

Even well-known Paralympian Dylan Alcott got in on the action as they congratulated the Australia team of Samantha Gould and Jamie Tanner, who enjoyed a relatively comfortable 6-3 6-1 win over Vanessa Bawden-Pere and Julie Bramley.

Alcott won two gold medals in wheelchair tennis at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. He is one of the presenters for host broadcaster ABC-TV at the Sydney Invictus Games. He has followed the Australian Invictus tennis team closely, attending training sessions in the months leading up to the Games and parting with game-day advice.

“They were bloody impressive out there today and have improved so much from where they were when they started,” Alcott said, of Australian pair Samantha Gould and Jamie Tanner.

The final day of wheelchair tennis competition at Invictus Games Sydney 2018 will take place at Sydney Olympic Park.

Kate Banville
Invictus Games Sydney 2018