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Features | 01 Apr 2022

Meet Dominic Iannotti: World No.1 for disability tennis

To mark World Autism Day on Saturday 2 April, we caught up with Dominic Iannotti, ranked best in the world for Learning Disability (LD) tennis. (Video courtesy of Kieran Brand).

Scotland doesn’t have the best reputation for sporting success, but when it comes to tennis the nation seems to punch well above its weight.

Fans will think of the Murray family and Andy’s famous Wimbledon win in 2016, but there’s another star who also deserves much credit.

Dominic Iannotti, 24, from Prestwick, has Asperger’s Syndrome and is the world No.1 for Learning Disability tennis, playing on a professional circuit that has taken him from Ayrshire to Australia, from Ecuador to Europe, representing Team GB.

So when did he first fall in love with tennis?

“When I was 10, me and my mum went as a parent and child group with my aunty and cousin,” Dominic recalls, “first as a four, and then after a few weeks the mums left us to it.”

“And I still remember him at 10!” adds Janice Rogerson, Dominic’s manager at the Prestwick Tennis Centre – a grassroots  club that is as much a community as a business.

Dominic first competed at 14, but three years later his hobby would snowball into a career when he was spotted by Karen Ross, head of performance coaching at Tennis Scotland. A series of domestic and international tournaments followed.

“At the time there wasn’t much information about disability sport, and I was cautious at first,” Dominic reflects, “but after the 2017 INAS World Tennis championships in Bolton I thought, ‘hey, I could do big things here’.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

The will to win

Momentum built until October 2019, when Dominic found himself in a gruelling singles final for the top spot.

He recalls the searing heat of the Australian sun, the pain of playing four matches in one day, and the mind games of a rival he’d played several times in the past.

His opponent was taking a minute between each serve, well beyond the standard 25 seconds, citing his own disability as the reason.

Dominic called for a break, stretched out his cramped legs, and questioned his opponent’s tactics with the umpire.

“He told me you have two options, you either play or you forfeit the match. So I thought I’d better play, and I won!” Dominic says.

“It was brilliant, I felt like I had the whole community behind me.”

Dominic and his dad

Credits: Dominic Ianotti

Credits: Dominic Ianotti
Dominic receives some advice from Team GB Coach Nick Lawrence

Travel to Australia was part-funded by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), but for domestic events Dominic and his team often have to cover the costs of travel themselves.

After enjoying a few days in the sun with his dad, Antonio, Dominic returned from the INAS Global Games with four medals, including two golds for Men’s Singles and Mixed Doubles, cementing his world No.1 status.

From champion to coach

Back in Scotland, Dominic’s success had already inspired a new generation of players to take up tennis.

Fellow Ayrshire player Jack Dickson, with Dominic as a coach, won gold at the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi.

How did it feel to celebrate the victory from the sideline, rather than as a player?

“It felt quite emotional after what I’d put into it, and he had given so much – two to three individual sessions per week, plus camps and training,” says Dominic.

“He set a goal and he achieved it; I was a very proud coach.”

Jack also has a form of autism, and it’s clear from this growing roster of stars at Prestwick Tennis Centre that LD tennis presents a huge opportunity for young people.

But Dominic is keen to stress that competition isn’t compulsory: “Tennis is a very adaptable sport – it doesn’t matter what age you are or your ability level, and LD tennis especially can adapt to suit the player. It’s a great social sport.”

Inclusive sport

Dominic is also a strong supporter of Vodafone’s charities.connected programme, which supports local charities and aims to connect One Million digitally excluded people by the end of his year. He believes that sport can help anyone, including those with learning disabilities.

Looking ahead, the world No.1 now has his sights set on defending the top spot at the upcoming VIRTUS (previously INAS) European championships in July, with hopes of Team GB selection in 2023.

While the whole nation will be willing him on, Dominic’s status as a role model and trailblazer for the sport is already secured.

His challenge to anyone unsure if tennis is for them?

“Come and give it a go!”

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