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It’s a First: Australian Open Welcomes Blind and Low Vision (BLV) Champions on January 24, 2023

For the first time ever, as the renowned tennis tournament marks its 111th edition, the Australian Open (AO) will be welcoming two Blind and Low Vision (BLV) champions onto the court. BLV players Mick Leigh, the Men’s B3 Australian Champion, and Courtney Webeck, Women’s B2 Australian Champion, will participate during the AO’s first-ever All Abilities Day on January 24, 2023 (January 23rd in the United States). All Abilities Day will “celebrate and provide opportunities for all members of our diverse community to experience and enjoy the AO.” To promote awareness and the inclusion of BLV tennis in the Open, Australian tennis champion Alicia Molik, former “World Number 8” player, took part in exhibition games prior to the AO with Leigh and Webeck, wearing blackout googles to simulate how people with vision loss experience the sport, gaining a new perspective of the game. “Having relied on her eyes while playing all her life, Molik was totally out of her element playing Leigh and Webeck but that only made her more passionate about raising the profile of BLV Tennis at the AO.” Often referred to as “’soundball,’” BLV tennis is typically played indoors on smaller courts with raised lines to indicate boundaries and an adapted foam ball containing bells so that players can track the ball’s location by sound. For players who are blind, up to three bounces are allowed on their side of the court and for those with low vision, one or two bounces are permitted depending on their sight classification. Through the sight classification system, B1 players have the least sight and B4 the most, as explained in an earlier RDPFS Bulletin piece on The Background of Blind Tennis. Read more about BLV tennis at the AO in Honey Nine’s article about the Act that changed Alicia Molik’s perspective of tennis at the Australian Open and the SBSNews coverage of how ‘Soundball’ will make its Australian Open debut this year. This match, as well as others, will be available online every day during AO23 through Action Audio, creating a “3D spatial audio experience for live sports to allow blind and low-vision audiences to follow the action in real-time.”