"When you are in a lift with these two, what looked to me like two giant athletes, and I had watched them so much on the TV and stuff, to see them in real life was just really inspiring"
Andy Lapthorne was 10 years old, and visiting Wimbledon with his father, when he suddenly found himself in a lift with Serena and Venus Williams.
Eighteen years later, Venus Williams, a five-time Wimbledon singles champion, watched on a packed court as the British wild card beat the USA’s second-seeded David Wagner, 7-5 6-4, in the inaugural quad wheelchair event on Thursday.
"It's crazy, it's been a long time coming, it's been a dream to play here, ever since I got into that lift with Venus and Serena, all those years ago," Lapthorne said.
Lapthorne said he and his father ended up using the lift in the players' area because normal disabled access had changed due to redevelopments at the All England Club.
His brief meeting with the Williams sisters, and their father and then-coach, Richard, turned out to be a life-changing event for Lapthorne.
"Ever since that day, I've always wanted to play here," said Lapthorne. "And Venus comes out and watches the match today. It's mad how sometimes, things in life come full circle.
"When you are in a lift with these two, what looked to me like two giant athletes, and I had watched them so much on the TV and stuff, to see them in real life was just really inspiring."
Quad history made
For the first time, quad singles and doubles wheelchair events, are a part of this year's Wimbledon Championships competition schedule. That means all four tennis majors now host quad events.
Lapthorne took part in a successful quad doubles exhibition at Wimbledon last year that featured four of the top 10 players.
"To be here, finally, for a British player, for the court to be packed the way it was, and to get the support that I got, it was just really special," said Lapthorne. "I could have lost today, and I would have probably been pretty happy."
Lapthorne, the world No.3, faces a tough opponent in the first quad singles final on Saturday: the top-seeded Dylan Alcott, who is trying to complete the career Grand Slam of all four major titles after he won his first Roland-Garros championship last month.
"He is going to have a home crowd advantage but I am going to have hundreds of Aussies that are coming,” said Alcott, a five-time Australian Open champion.
"Hopefully there will be little kids like I was, who will be watching that and go 'I want to do that. I don't care about my disability. Or, I don't care that I am different.' You can go to Wimbledon, and be different," said Alcott.
Quest for Grand Slam history continues
In the women's wheelchair singles, the top-seeded Diede de Groot remained on track for her third Wimbledon title as she beat fellow Dutchwoman Marjolein Buis in three sets. De Groot faces South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane in the semi-final, while Netherlands’ Aniek van Koot will play Japan’s second-seeded Yui Kamiji in the other semi-final.
In the men's wheelchair singles, Gustavo Fernandez continued his campaign to become the first male player to win a calendar year Grand Slam of all four wheelchair tennis singles titles with a 6-1 6-3 victory over Britain's Alfie Hewett.
Argentina's Fernandez plays French legend Stephane Houdet for a spot in the final, while the other men's singles semi-final will be contested between Japan’s top-seeded Shingo Kunieda and Sweden’s defending champion Stefan Olsson.
More on Wimbledon can be found on the ITF’s website.