When Aniek van Koot learned a long time ago that the finals of the European Wheelchair Tennis Championships will be played in the middle of the center of Rotterdam on August 12 and 13, she immediately “got very special images. I saw myself standing on a field between the H&M and Zara.” That now is somewhat exaggerated. But, that the finals at the European Para Championships are “brought to the people” is indeed true. Tennis will be played on Schouwburgplein next weekend. And those matches are, hey, free to enter.
“No, we haven’t done anything like that before”, Diede de Groot knows full well. “We give small demonstrations once in a while, but on a mini court. But a real finale in the heart of the city, that’s definitely new. Exciting, too”, they say together.
Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot, the numbers 1 and 6 on the world ranking list in the singles, are guaranteed a spot on the Schouwburgplein in the doubles anyway. Good chance that, given their performance in Rotterdam so far, they will also face each other in the women’s singles final.
On Wednesday, both Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot played their singles quarterfinals. And then they came into action as a duo. Entirely as expected, they won their confrontations, looking back with particular satisfaction on their 6-0, 6-0 doubles performance against the Swiss opponents Nalani Buob and Angela Grosswiller. “And not least because we hadn’t played with each other for a long time. But it immediately felt familiar again”, De Groot said. At the US Open last September they were still a couple, the (five) years before that they were doubles partners. De Groot now usually plays doubles with Jiske Griffioen (who is absent in Rotterdam).
Van Koot: “The nice thing was that we immediately felt each other again, we were pretty sharp and moved well. Half a word was enough. It is true that every now and then you shout ‘you’, but usually the other person already knows that she has to take the ball. But you can always use a little verbal help anyway.”
They are playing the first rounds of the wheelchair tennis tournament at TV Victoria, in Rotterdam’s Kralingen neighborhood. Both say honestly that they would have preferred, as do the other sports, to have played in Ahoy. “Not only because we had felt so welcome there during the ABN Amro Open, because since that week my feeling for the city has already turned 180 degrees. But also because we would have liked to have had a little more connection with the other sports at EPC2023”, Van Koot said. De Groot attended the opening ceremony Monday night. “That was the moment I did realize how big this already is, and how big it can become. All those athletes from different countries, all those flags.”
The tennis players know that where for other sports the European Championships are often the only important tournament in the year, they themselves have many more highlights per season. There are already the four grand slams anyway, in Melbourne, New York, London and Paris. “And in theory, we could play a tournament every week these days. Our calendar is really so much fuller than before, a lot of organizations of regular events have also added a wheelchair tournament in recent years. Especially when those are played at the same time, it generates considerable attention from the public. Because, we secretly still need that push a little bit.”
For now, they hope to captivate spectators on Schouwburgplein in particular. De Groot: “It would be nice if we can hold the people who pass by and sit down thanks to the game we play. Normally for a tennis game you have to go somewhere, now we just come to the city center. I think that idea is really exciting.”