IN 2006, Abu Samah Borhan’s world turned upside down when he was involved in a road accident.
“The doctors diagnosed me with a spinal cord injury and I was paralysed from the waist down,” he recalled.
It was in those dark moments that his life took a twist.
“I was trying to recover and adjust to a new lifestyle when I met a friend, who introduced me to wheelchair tennis.
“That friend, who is also a wheelchair tennis player, is actually my wife now. We’ve been married for eight years.
“It wasn’t easy picking up tennis because I wasn’t an athlete before my injury. I had zero knowledge about tennis when I started,” he said.
The 32-year-old Abu Samah and his wife Norisah Bahrom have a healthy six-year-old son Adam Danial.
Once he got into the swing of things, there was no stopping Abu Samah in wheelchair tennis.
The world No. 46 even competed at the Rio Paralympics, where he was beaten in the first round by world No. 3 Alfie Hewett of Britain.
Still, he is Malaysia’s best bet for gold at the Kuala Lumpur Asean Para Games from Sept 17-23.
He has been seeded second behind Thailand’s world No. 43 Suthi Khlongrua in men’s singles (Open category). Abu Samah will also partner Ariffahmi Zaquan Ariffin in men’s doubles.
(Open category: This sport class is designated for athletes, who have a significant and permanent impairment of one or both legs and normal arm function. This profile may match with athletes with paraplegia or leg amputations, for example.)
“I’ve been training under the National Sports Council (NSC) programme since 2009 and I want to make the best of our home advantage,” said Abu Samah.
“I only won a bronze in singles the last time wheelchair tennis was held – back in Solo, Indonesia, in 2011. I’m hoping to win the gold this time.”
National wheelchair tennis head coach Mohd Nadir Ashraf said that Abu Samah has the ability to deliver gold as the real target is for him to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics on merit.
“Abu Samah didn’t qualify on merit for the 2016 Rio Games. But he’s easily a top-20 player in the world. Hopefully, we can get more support for him to compete regularly on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) circuit and go to Tokyo on merit,” said Nadir.
Only the top 34 players in the world qualify for the Paralympics automatically.
Malaysia are also banking on 51-year-old Azman Hassan to win gold in the men’s quad (quadriplegia) category.
(Quad class: Players in this class have an impairment affecting their playing arm as well as their legs. This limits their ability to handle the racquet and to move in the wheelchair. You will find that players may use tape to securely grip the racquet.)
The other players in the national squad are Muhd Firdaus Ibrahim and Mohd Yusshazwan Yusof (Open category).