Alfie Hewett in the men's wheelchair singles quarter-finals at Wimbledon 2022, London,UK
Alfie Hewett in the men's wheelchair singles quarter-finals at Wimbledon 2022, London,UK | (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Tennis | Wimbledon 2022 | Wheelchair round-up: Hewett suffers tough finals loss, reflects on the future of wheelchair tennis

By Tony Fairbairn at Wimbledon

  • Alfie Hewett served for the match four times but couldn’t win the singles title as he lost in a last set tiebreak.
  • Hewett also lost the doubles final with Gordon Reid as he reflected on the future of wheelchair tennis.
  • Andy Lapthorne lost the title in the Quad Wheelchair doubles final with partner David Wagner in three sets
LONDON, ENGLAND – Alfie Hewett reflected on the future of wheelchair tennis after suffering a heart-breaking singles defeat to Shingo Kunieda as well as losing the doubles final with Gordon Reid.

 

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Double defeat for Hewett

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It was a double dose of finals for Alfie Hewett as he produced dramatic semi-finals in both singles and doubles to reach the final. On Saturday Hewett and his partner Gordon Reid showed their fatigue from a last set tiebreak win the evening before as they convincingly lost to the pairing of Gustavo Fernandez and Shingo Kunieda. Ironically it was Fernandez, who Hewett produced his semi-final comeback against but the British duo suffered a convincing 6-3 6-1 defeat.

That meant that if Hewett wanted to walk away from Wimbledon with a Grand Slam to his name then he would have to win it in the singles final. Hewett had won five Grand Slam singles titles but never won at Wimbledon and in the final was up against arguably the greatest Men’s Wheelchair player ever in the form of Kunieda. The Japanese star has won 27 Grand Slam singles titles but was looking to achieve the career Grand Slam having never won Wimbledon.

A lot at stake so it was understandable that there was a lot of nerves and tension as both players couldn’t be consistently aggressive on serve. It was Hewett who held his nerve more and played the more attacking tennis on the bigger points as he took the opening set 6-4. The Brit was looking comfortable in the second set as well producing a high quality and was deflecting everything Kunieda was throwing at him with intensity and quality.

Hewett was serving for the match at 5-4 as he continued to pummel deep shots towards the baseline. However the occasion started to get to the Brit and Kunieda showed the Court Three crowd why he is the top seed as he produced amazing angles mixed with drop shots as he battled back. Three games in a row and Kunieda’s returning quality saw him take the second set 7-5 and level the match at one set all.

Despite the tough end to the second set Hewett continued his high level of tennis as he produced sensational returns and effective point construction to have the overwhelming advantage in the deciding set. Hewett’s consistent serving mixed with deep groundstroke play saw him gain the double break advantage at 4-1 and 5-2 as he was once again on the cusp of a first Wimbledon singles title. Once again though Hewett couldn’t take his opportunities as he was feeling the moment with loose unforced errors and double faults costing him against a clinical Kunieda. After losing the double break advantage, Hewett went back onto the attack with his backhand once again doing the damage as he took a 6-5 lead.

The Brit still couldn’t control his nerves though as he was once again broken without creating a match point. A tiebreak would decide this topsy-turvy match and in the tiebreak it went exactly how the rest of the match went. Hewett started the better and more aggressive player as he took a 5-3 lead in what was an exhausting match. But the Japanese star upped his level of play when it mattered most as he took advantage of a passive Hewett to win the next seven points and claim the career Grand Slam.

Despite the defeat Hewett said that he is making great progress and is taking the positives heading into the US Open:

“So much progress. I think today, it’s not even the tennis I’m happy about; it’s the way I was able to get up out of bed this morning when I’ve never felt like this before, to be able to compete for another three hours and a bit. I went to a mental place that I’ve probably never been before,” Hewett admitted.

“To keep fighting and to keep motivated, obviously it’s Wimbledon and it’s the home support, but it’s been a difficult couple of days. Amazing couple of days, don’t get me wrong. It’s come at a price.

“Absolutely incredible the experience I’ve had this championships. The tennis, of course, I’ve reached the final for the first time, which I’ve struggled with. Was two points away from maybe getting my hands on the title. I can take so much confidence from that and use that for future years that I can do it.”

 There was also defeat for Andy Lapthorne as him and David Wagner lost 6-7(4) 6-2 6-3 to top seeds Sam Schroder and Niels Vink in the Quad Wheelchair doubles final.

 

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‘We’re on the right trajectory’

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 As much as personal accolades is on the agenda of Hewett there is also a far bigger thing that’s on the agenda and that’s the growth of Wheelchair tennis as a sport. The sport has gradually grown bigger to an extent where Hewett was playing on Court One and the popularity has grown to a point where thousands of fans have filled stadiums to watch the action.

After his doubles defeat Hewett spoke about how he assess the growth of the game and whether the ATP or WTA have been contacting the players about participating in warm-up tournaments before Grand Slams:

“I think first of all, obviously grateful for what the Uniqlo tour does for us. They provide tournaments all around the world for everyone at all different levels,” Hewett stated.

“We have a very good system in place from players that want to get involved in the sport, work their way up. At the elite as well. Obviously for us at the moment, being at the top of the sport, we want to just keep pushing and head in the right direction, make it even more professional, make it grow as big as we can because we won’t be playing this sport forever. There will be an end day at some point.

“Obviously we want to selfishly make the most of it. Right now we’re in a place where we’re doing really well. It’s getting a lot more exposure, whether it be at the slams or trying to increase the participation in the ATP or WTA events, I think it’s happening. I think we’re on the right trajectory towards that.

“There’s a lot obviously that has to be put in place. There’s not a lot that we as players can do apart from just voice our wishes, which is, of course, we want to have more warmup events before each Grand Slam, would like to be integrated, of course, at many ATP and WTA events as possible. Obviously there’s a lot to be able to achieve that. I think we’re making good in-roads. Hopefully yesterday was a stepping-stone in that.”

There are obviously a lot of different aspects that will help Wheelchair players compete on the ATP and WTA tours more regularly. One part of the game that will help with growing the game more consistently is expanded draws at grand slams with their only being an 8-player draw in the singles at Wimbledon this year.

Hewett admitted that this is one thing that can help and he’s positive of a successful outcome but as he hinted towards the end of his answer, everyone needs to do their bit to achieve that objective:

“I think that’s definitely one thing that can help. But it’s making sure that the whole tour is balanced out, that it’s not just for the top 16, 32 in the world, but it’s for everyone. Making a system that is fit for everyone to be able to get from the bottom to the top,” Hewett said.

“At the moment, Roland Garros obviously was 12, the US Open is looking like 16, so that’s now happening, which is great. We’ll see the consequences from that maybe next year, in a couple of years. I can guarantee the players that are now ranked 20 to 16 will have more of an incentive and motivation to practice and get better and improve because there’s a chance they would be at a Grand Slam, whereas previously that wouldn’t probably be the case.

“That can only improve the quality of tennis. Hopefully the standard will get better and there will be a lot more competition, and maybe a few more familiar faces to do interviews with, as well.”

Hewett and Reid will be hoping to be back in action next week at the British Open before competing at the final Grand Slam of the year at the US Open.

 

 

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