Norfolk wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett unable to defend title as he ‘doesn’t meet requirements’
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A grand slam-winning tennis player from Norfolk is expecting not to be allowed to defend his Australian Open title as he does not meet the new classifications being brought in for wheelchair tennis.
Alfie Hewett, a former Acle High School and City College Norwich student, and fellow Briton Gordon Reid beat the French pair of Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer in the men's doubles final in Melbourne on Friday.
The 22-year-old from Cantley has Perthes disease, which affects the hip and femur, but new International Tennis Federation (ITF) rules mean that, as it stands, he will not be eligible to take part in the open wheelchair division at the next Australian Open.
He told BBC Sport: "There's a new system that's come in, and I just don't meet the requirements for it.
"But there's no other option for me, because I'm not able to compete on my feet.
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"I know there's been a lot of noise in the last six months, and the decisions have been made now.
"At the moment it is my last year, so that's why today meant a lot to me. And obviously Gio (Reid) knew that as well, and coming into that third-set tie-break it was just a case of going out there and giving it my all.
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"I shed a few tears at the end, and back in the locker room. We've had a great time together, and a good adventure, and if this is the last time I play the Australian Open, then it's very, very happy memories."
Hewett boasts nine grand slam titles and two Paralympic silver medals, with seven of those grand slams shared with playing partner Reid.
Reid said: "It's obviously been tough. I can't imagine putting myself in Alfie's position. Classification in Paralympic sport is a very controversial subject, one that's never going to be perfect and there's always going to be someone that misses out.
"Things could change, I wouldn't be surprised if they did, and hopefully this isn't the last year we see Alfie playing wheelchair tennis."
A spokesperson for the LTA told BBC Sport: "We are supporting all the players on our world class programme through the new classification process. That process is still ongoing, we are continuing to liaise with the ITF on it, and therefore won't be commenting on any specific player cases."