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There’s no blindsiding this 25-year-old Bengaluru student on a tennis court

BENGALURU: Playing tennis could be hard for the blind even if the ball makes a tinkling sound when it hits a surface. But 25-year-old Nibin Mathew, a visually challenged student pursuing MSc in digital society at International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore, has aced it. In the recently held national blind tennis championship in Patiala, Nibin defeated 11 participants and qualified for the international blind tennis championship to be hosted by Italy in June 2020. Nibin, who’s from Wayanad in Kerala, lost his sight due to glaucoma. He got the first taste of blind tennis at a workshop in Mumbai where he was working with the railways for three years. “I was one of the 20 participants when The Indian Blind Sports Association and Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association conducted a tennis camp for coaches and visually challenged players. Initially, it was the excitement of movement, where a sponge ball flying in the air makes a tinkling sound on hitting the racket or a synthetic surface. That excitement drove me to the next level and I began practising regularly,” recalled Nibin. In blind tennis, players listen to the sound of the specially modified ball as it strikes the ground and swing the racquet according to their prediction of the ball’s location, calculating its speed and distance. “We struggled to get an inclusive court, a sound ball and support for practice as the sport is new to our country. The IBTA-approved sound ball manufactured by a Japan company is costly (around Rs 1,500 a piece) and is very fragile,” he said. Nibin entered IIIT-B to chase his dream of pursuing pure sciences. “When I moved to Bengaluru, I felt I would lose opportunities related to the sport. But the institute ensured I didn’t stop pursuing it. The authorities had a dozen balls imported from Japan for me. Tactile court is an important factor of this tennis model, which helps a player get proper orientation. All lines except the service box should project from the court surface. IIIT-B designed a portable version of an inclusive tennis court using carpet pieces on an experimental basis,” he explained. “Apart from this, my friends who can see, including integrated MTech student Risshi Sunkum, took out time to play with me. We used to practise at midnight or whenever we were free. He also described how blind players from other countries play by observing YouTube videos. All this helped me,” Nibin said. The sport, he admitted, has helped improve his mobility. “Many people on campus now ask me whether I can see a little bit,” said Nibin, who plans to rigorously practise for the upcoming matches.

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