Norfolk’s wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett is fired up to battle for more success at Wimbledon
Ahead of his next grand slam challenge Alfie Hewett spoke to DAVID FREEZER about conquering nerves and the rivalry playing a major part in his career as he chases further title joy on home soil.
He’s in form, conquered his grand slam nerves and fired up for more success but Alfie Hewett is taking nothing for granted ahead of his third Wimbledon campaign.
Cantley’s wheelchair tennis star begins his next adventure on the grass courts of the All England Club today when he takes on world number five Nicolas Peifer in the singles quarter-finals.
The 19-year-old is the player with the hot hand as well having won the singles title at the French Open last month, his first individual grand slam success.
It’s far from the former Acle High School pupil’s only success though, winning the Wimbledon doubles alongside Gordon Reid and winning two silver medals at the Rio Paralympics last year.
He again teams up with British number one Reid tomorrow for the doubles semi-final, with the potential to be playing a singles semi-final against either second seed Gustavo Fernandez – whom he beat 0-6 7-6(9) 6-2 in the French Open final – or Stephane Houdet.
“I believe I can win both but it’s such a strong field I wouldn’t be able to put my money on any player, anyone can win,” Hewett said. “I’m playing good tennis, I feel like I’m on good form. Wimbledon’s going to be tough, on the grass, which is one of the hardest surfaces to push (wheelchairs) on so it’s anyone’s game.
“With Gordon and the doubles, we will look to defend our title, we’ll try to fight for that but it’s going to be tough. My objectives are to take the first round of the singles and the doubles and just take it as it comes.
“I did that for Roland Garros and I think I need to keep the same mentality going into this one because I know I’ve just won my first grand slam but I don’t think I should be going into my next one and put that extra pressure on myself and see if I can win it because it’s not as easy as that. I need to prepare the same way.”
The teen’s first Wimbledon was in 2015, partnering Joachim Gerard in a narrow 6-7(9) 6-3 6-7(4) semi-final defeat to Reid and Michael Jeremiasz. Last year brought the first wheelchair singles to SW19 but it ended swiftly for Norfolk’s finest, with nerves getting the better of him in a 0-6 4-6 loss to Gerard.
The doubles was a different deal though, partnering Reid to a convincing 6-3 6-2 defeat of Gerard and Fernandez to seal a place in the final and national attention.
On the same day that Andy Murray won his second Wimbledon title the British duo drew a big crowd to court 17, in the shadow of Centre Court, and battled back to beat the French duo of Houdet and Peifer 4-6 6-1 7-6(6) to huge cheers from spectators and millions watching live on BBC Two.
Last year he was ranked 11th in the world in singles but there was no need for a wildcard this time, having risen to number six.
“I’ve definitely got used to it a little bit,” Hewett said of his work to overcome his nerves. “I’ve played my first Paralympics, won the doubles at Wimbledon last year and then the win at the French Open, it’s shown that I can perform under pressure and that gives me real good confidence going into big events.
“I would think that I’ll rise to the occasion, that’s one of my strongest attributes, that I’m fearless on court and no matter what event or what pressures are on me, I just give it my all. I’ve certainly shown in this last year that I can do it and definitely in the past it wasn’t the same.
“I remember talking about how nervous I got on the big stage but I’ve learned from it, I’m a quick learner, I’ve got a sport psychologist now which helps and I’ve got certain routines which definitely help with the nerves.
“I’m always going to be nervous to be at Wimbledon, there’s never going to be a time when I’m not nervous, and if we reach the final it’s going to be a big crowd, there’s going to be a lot of eyes on us.”
Victory in the doubles is likely to tee up yet another clash with Houdet and Peifer, who have exacted revenge for last year’s Wimbledon final with no less than seven wins in eight matches against Hewett and Reid – including the Paralympic and French Open finals.
“It’s been seven finals just this year, that’s quite some rivalry,” Hewett added, with two of those finals having been when partnering Fernandez. “In wheelchair tennis I don’t really think that’s happened before, which shows what great pairs we are, we keep reaching finals and we’ve only beaten them at Wimbledon. It’s been tough, we beat them once this year in a final in South Africa, but we’ve lost four times. So we’re very much pumped to make sure that we beat them but we won’t face them first so we have to concentrate on our first doubles match but if we do come up against them again, I think it’s going to be some final.”