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May 4, 2007

Top deaf players head for Gloucester

From: Wiltshire Times - Wiltshire,UK - May 4, 2007

Former champion Daniel Tunstall, from Devizes, is among the country's 30 top deaf players taking part in the National Deaf Tennis Championships at the Oxstalls Indoor Tennis Centre, Gloucester, this weekend.

Tunstall, who is currently head tennis coach at Devizes Sports Club, was national men's singles champion in 1997 and 1998 and finished runner-up to Peter Willcox in the 2003 final.

Despite being a perennial singles semi-finalist since, he has had more success in the doubles events, having won six men's doubles and eight mixed doubles national titles since 1997.

He was a mixed doubles bronze medallist at the last two Deaflympics and is the brother of award winning singer-songwriter KT Tunstall.

With open division singles and doubles events for the country's leading players, B Division singles and doubles events for new and up-and-coming players and over 35 singles and doubles events on offer, no fewer than four former national champions will contest the men's singles title, led by reigning national champion Peter Willcox (Tiverton, Devon).

Willcox will aim to lift the men's singles title for a seventh time, but is sure to face a strong challenge from Sheffield-based student and former two-time champion Anthony Sinclair (Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland) and 2005 runner-up Lewis Fletcher (Farnham, Surrey), among others.

Sinclair, who became Great Britain's first Deaflympic Games men's singles finalist for 40 years when claiming silver in Melbourne in 2005, at an event known as the Olympics of deaf sport, is the last player to beat Willcox in the national championships. He defeated the Devon player in the 2001 and 2002 finals and will hope to repeat either of those performances after missing last year's national championships.

Fletcher will again be chasing his first national title, The men's singles will also give up-and-coming players the chance to take on the more established names, including Southampton's Jamie King, a former winner of the B Division singles at both the national championships and the British Open, who is one of a number of younger players making considerable progress in the sport.

The ladies' singles once again looks set to be an enticing contest, with three-time national champion Catherine Graham (Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire) aiming to keep the title she regained last year against strong opposition from Oxfordshire twins Alex and Beth Simmons (Marcham, Oxfordshire) Alex and Beth Simmons were runners-up to Graham in the ladies' singles in 2003 and 2004 respectively, before Beth went on to become national champion in 2005 in Graham's absence.

Graham edged through a thrilling three set match against Alex Simmons in last year's semi-finals, before defeating Beth Simmons in the final and all three players are guaranteed to go head-to-head again this year in the four-way round robin event, which also includes Surrey's Fiona Brookes.

This year's national championships will be the last deaf competition that the players have in which to make a case for selection for the 2007 Dresse and Maere Cups, the Davis and Federation Cups of deaf tennis, which takes place in Munich, Germany, at the end of July.

Great Britain has a fine record in international competition in recent years, including being the reigning Maere Cup champions, after Graham and both Alex and Beth Simmons formed three quarters of the Great Britain squad that won the Fed Cup of deaf tennis in Austria in 2003.

Also in Austria in 2003 Great Britain's men were runners-up in the Dresse Cup, with Willcox, Tunstall, O'Donnell and Fletcher all in the Great Britain team on that occasion.

Meanwhile, for the Oxstalls Indoor Tennis Centre the National Deaf Tennis Championships is the first of two major events in the space of a month, with the National Wheelchair Tennis Championships also set to take place at the Tennis Centre from May 25 to 28.

The 2007 National Deaf Tennis Championships is supported by Gloucester City Council, Slazenger, and Cathedral City.

Entry for spectators to the National Championships is free.

© 2007 Wiltshire Times