‘Streams of tears’: Wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett cleared to continue playing | Tennis
Alfie Hewett spoke of the intense relief and his “streams of tears” after being allowed to continue his career in wheelchair tennis after a change in classification rules.
The 18-time Grand Slam champion was expected to retire from his sport at the age of just 23 after the International Tennis Federation ruled Perthes disease, a condition that affects Hewett and limits hip movements, was not debilitating enough to require the use of a wheelchair.
A suspended sentence had weighed on Hewett for two years because first the pandemic, then an appeal process delayed the implementation of the decision. But just a week after bidding farewell to doubles partner Gordon Reid, with whom he won 13 slam titles, Hewett confirmed he was ready to continue playing.
Hewett traveled to Amsterdam last week for further classification tests, with the ITF adjusting its criteria to eliminate from the competition only those who could realistically compete while standing.
“I barely winked at sleep the night before so I was pretty exhausted, just streams of tears,” Hewett said of when he learned of the decision. “I had a glass of champagne at the airport, but the first thing I wanted to do was sleep because I was exhausted. Mentally and emotionally it was a very exhausting experience but obviously the best.
“It’s only now that I realize how much this has really weighed on me. You’ve probably all felt it in your life at some point when something so heavy is taken away from you that you actually feel it lifting off your shoulders, and I did. I felt so relieved.
The Norfolk-born player received his assessment last week and unexpectedly revealed the news to a group of students after accepting an honorary degree from Easton and City College, Norwich. “I can tell you there will be more Alfie Hewett Grand Slams and Paralympics in the years to come,” he told the students. “My agent is going to shoot me for saying that, but I don’t care.”
Hewett will now be able to play in the Australian Open in January, where he lost in the final to Belgium’s Joachim Gerard in 2021. But the prospect of teaming up with Reid again will be just as important. The pair have dominated the wheelchair doubles since their partnership formed five years ago and completed the calendar slam this year, winning at Flushing Meadows alongside Emma Raducanu.
Last week, Hewett summed up his feelings about the partnership on Twitter. “Gordon, it was an absolute pleasure to take this trip with you, whatever happens next, I can always remember the amazing memories we have created as a partnership. Thank you my friend.
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