Ryb aims to take on the world after retaining national visually impaired tennis title

Paul Ryb in action. Pic: James Jordan

Paul Ryb in action. Pic: James Jordan - Credit: James Jordan

Highgate’s Paul Ryb is ending 2015 on a high after winning the National Visually Impaired Tennis Championships for the third year in a row – and he is hoping to have the chance to earn international honours for the first time in 2016.

Paul Ryb shows off his latest medal. Pic: James Jordan

Paul Ryb shows off his latest medal. Pic: James Jordan - Credit: Archant

The 44-year-old, who lives in Bloomfield Road, beat his main rival Chris Baily in the final of the B3-B4 category to retain his title at the National Tennis Centre after previously taking the crown in 2013 and 2014.

That follows success in five of the six regional tournaments he has attended this year, and he is determined to stay at the top of his game.

“It gets tougher every year – I get older and the others get younger,” Ryb told Ham&High Sport. “The aim is to maintain that level.

“There are some players that are really up there challenging me – Callum Lock and Chris Baily won the national doubles title.

“Callum is an 18-year-old kid, he’s got an amazing style of tennis, and he’s young. It’s his first season in visually impaired tennis. Chris Baily is a good player and he also plays for a club in a sighted capacity – he’s my main challenger at the moment.

“They won the doubles this year and they were both hoping to take my crown, but I was able to beat them both – one in the semi and one in the final, which was great.

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“We’re hoping it’s going international next year. The British Tennis Association and LTA have pledged that there will be an international tournament. There are lots of countries playing visually impaired tennis now, and next year I hope to defend all my titles.”

Ryb, a retired investment banker who now sits on the board of two major sight-loss charities – RNIB (the Royal National Institute for the Blind and Macular Society – played football, rugby and tennis when he was younger, while winning a host of go-karting trophies.

He lost much of his vision in 2007 but was inspired by a presentation from Odette Battarel of the London-based Metro Blind Sport Group, encouraging participation in visually impaired tennis.

The court is shortened by a quarter on each side of the net, while a ‘Japanese sound ball’ is used, which is twice the normal size of a tennis ball and contains ball bearings so the bounces are more audible. Ryb, who plays regularly at Islington Tennis Centre, was soon hooked.

“When you’re visually impaired and you’re used to playing team sports or doing things yourself, you want to find another sport that’s got edge, competitiveness and fills that gap, and tennis is brilliant,” he said.

“I’ve always had bad eyesight. My excuse for losing is now clear to my friends. Playing normal tennis, the ball’s too fast, too small.

“When my sight adjusted and I was able to find the visually impaired sport with the bigger, slower ball and the two bounces with the shorter courts, I was in my element. I was always fairly good in my reflexes and this is just as much to do with fitness, reflexes and intuition as it is to do with visually impaired sport.

“It’s wonderful because a lot of people might say ‘the better sight you have, the better player you’ll be’ but actually we’ve got visually impaired players who can beat sighted players. It’s about ability as much as anything else.

“It’s a great sport and you can play it with sighted people, non-sighted people, with your kids.”

That is one of the great benefits of visually impaired tennis. B3-B4 players are allowed two bounces on their side of the net, while opponents with no visual impairments are only allowed one bounce as usual, providing a level playing field which allows Ryb to compete against his friends and his daughters Olivia, 15, and Alice, 13 – who both attend Channing School in Highgate.

“Sighted guys I play, who are good tennis players, love it – they say it’s a brilliant work-out because the rallies are very long,” said Ryb. “Tactically it’s great as well because you’ve got a lot of sensitivity on the ball in terms of slicing and spinning. It’s short tennis on steroids basically.

“The techniques are very similar to badminton, squash, table tennis and tennis – the racquet sports all rolled into one. I use a smaller racquet than some of my competitors, kids’ racquets, to get more wrist control on the ball.”

Ryb also credits his sessions at the Xen-Do Martial Arts studio in Golders Green for the trophies in his cabinet.

“The main reason for my victories over the last three years, to be honest, is fitness,” he said. “What I do as a visually impaired person is to do very intense hand-eye coordination once a week with a kickboxing studio.

“The two senseis there know about my visual impairment so we do one-on-one fitness and hand-eye coordination sessions. It was always their mission to get me fit for the championships, and I’m convinced that that gives me the edge over some of the better players.

“I started doing that three or four years ago. I played [in the National Championships] in 2010 but I didn’t win – I got knocked out in the semis or the final to better players, and then I decided an edge which was more fitness and I took up the kickboxing, and that was really good.”

The Tennis Foundation supports an increasing number of tennis venues that run visually impaired sessions across the country. For more information visit the website at www.VITennis.org.uk.