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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Wheelchair Tennis: Five-time Grand Slam champion Alfie Hewett can continue under new classification rules

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Alfie Hewett
Alfie Hewett won his first Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2017

Alfie Hewett says he “hasn’t stopped smiling” since being told he can continue his wheelchair tennis career.

The five-time Grand Slam singles champion was told in 2019 that new classification rules would make him ineligible to compete.

The reviewed rules take account of the specific physical demands of wheelchair tennis, and Hewett is free to play on.

He said: “It’s excitement, and relief, and I’m more motivated than I have been in a long while to push on.”

Until the new classification rules were published by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in 2019, eligibility to compete (with the exception of the quad division) was based on a player’s self-assessment of their impairment.

All players will in future have to undergo independent assessment, which in Hewett’s case took place in Amsterdam earlier this month.

“It was obviously a bit of a nerve-racking period leading up to it – going through all the emotions of what’s next, and whether I would still be in tennis,” he continued.

“The night before, there wasn’t much sleep going on.”

Hewett, who has Perthes Disease affecting his hip and femur, was told he met the new criteria later the same day and celebrated with a glass of bubbly before flying home from Amsterdam airport.

The 23-year-old says he bears no resentment towards the process or the ITF, and points out he has not had to miss a single tournament.

“It’s made me a lot more resilient,” he said.

“I’ve had to dig deep in a lot of matches and I could almost use it as a way of not giving up.

“It’s not been easy. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to have to go through a classification change which leads to the outcome ours did. But this wasn’t a personal thing.”

Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid
Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid started their successful doubles partnership winning Wimbledon in 2016

Hewett will now be free to continue his phenomenal doubles partnership with Gordon Reid, who was one of the very first people he broke the good news to.

They became the first all-British pair to complete the calendar Grand Slam at this year’s US Open, and won a 13th Grand Slam wheelchair doubles title together in the process.

Hewett says he is hoping for another 20 years in the sport to win many more titles and also to inspire others to take up the sport.

“There’s a few titles as a singles player I haven’t got, and as a doubles player we are missing one little bling to the collection (a Paralympic gold medal).

“But it’s not just for the titles, it’s a way of inspiring. I think that’s going to play a big role in the future of Alfie Hewett: trying to get more people involved with the sport.

“Hopefully in 20 years time, I’m still playing and enjoying.”

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