Hewett faces anxious wait over his future
- Credit: AP
Alfie Hewett’s career hangs in the balance - but the Norfolk wheelchair tennis star has big ambitions in the time he has left.
The 23-year-old from Cantley won his fifth Grand Slam singles title last week, completing the double-double as he retained both singles and doubles titles at Roland Garros.
His attentions will now turn to winning a maiden Wimbledon singles title, as well as upgrading his two Paralympic silver medals from Rio into gold in Tokyo.
All the while, he must deal with the fact that he may no longer be able to play the sport at the end of the year.
New regulations introduced by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), and approved by the International Paralympic Committee, mean that Hewett’s rare hip abnormality, Perthes Disease, would no longer allow him to compete in wheelchair tennis.
They had been due to come into force at the end of 2020 but were pushed back a year considering the postponement of the Paralympics.
That means this could be Hewett’s final year in his sport, but a sliver of hope has emerged.
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He explained: “There have been some developments. I know the ITF have been conducting some independent research on the criteria. Previously the criteria were based around para-athletics and not specific to wheelchair tennis. I know they have been going through quite a vigorous process recently and potentially trying to change the criteria so it is more tennis-specific with evidence from scientists, physios, and doctors.
“What happens afterwards, I’m not sure now. But there is a small bit of hope, so I just have to pray it gets overturned.”
While the sword of Damocles hangs over his head, Hewett does not appear to be fazed, seeing off world number one and seven-time Roland Garros champion Shingo Kunieda in the French Open final.
Now his aim is to conquer Wimbledon, and after two years away, he believes his game is now better suited to succeed on the grass.
“It’s no secret, any Brit who plays tennis dreams of that title,” said Hewett, who is one of over 1,000 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme.
“I feel that my game has transformed a lot over the last two years when we haven’t played on grass. It is about understanding the grass court, we have not had a lot of tournaments on it, it is still fresh on the wheelchair circuit.
“My serve is probably one of the biggest attributes in my game that I didn’t have two or three years ago. On grass, especially in the wheelchair game, it is a serve and return game, it is not usually a five-six shot rally. So, you must have a good first serve and a good return, and I do not think I had that. I went through with my team a year ago and I was the least effective server in the top eight, so that was a big eye-opener for me. In the last year I have transformed that serve into the most effective, I feel like I have a big advantage going into it.”
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