Alfie Hewett driven by question marks over future ahead of Paralympics

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Wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett admits the threat of new classification rules prematurely ending his career is fuelling his motivation ahead of a potential Paralympic swansong.

The 16-time grand slam champion has a second successive Games in his sights having been confirmed in Great Britain’s squad for this summer’s trip to Tokyo.

Hewett has been competing under a cloud of uncertainty for the past 18 months after being told he may soon become ineligible to play the sport professionally because his disability is not deemed severe enough under fresh criteria.

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The 23-year-old, who was diagnosed with Perthes Disease at the age of six, is currently permitted to continue until the end of 2021 and determined to remain positive as he awaits the outcome of a review into the situation.

“At first I struggled to accept it and understand, but over time it’s something you do have to let go because it can be quite exhausting and consuming to be constantly thinking about the effect and all the stresses of what this decision may mean for me and my future,” he told the PA news agency.

“I still have a job to do. At the moment, I still have great opportunities: Paralympics, Wimbledon, the French just gone, the US Open still coming, there are so many events still to play.

“I would never have forgiven myself if I continued with this miserable, mopey attitude and behaviour from a decision that’s not in my control.

“I didn’t want to use it as an excuse. I think initially I did but I’ve changed that mindset, I’ve changed the way I look at it because I have to.

“I use that as a motivator to push me in training, but ultimately when I’m out there I just want to win.

“I’ve picked up my form, my motivation – my ambition is the highest it’s ever been.”

Aged just 18, Hewett claimed two silvers at Rio 2016 after losing the singles final to fellow British player Gordon Reid, with whom he finished runner-up in the doubles.

The pair were on Thursday named in Britain’s six-person wheelchair tennis squad for Japan alongside 2016 quad singles silver medallist Andy Lapthorne and Paralympics debutant Dermot Bailey, plus two-time Paralympic doubles bronze medallists Jordanne Whiley and Lucy Shuker.

Great Britain’s Gordon Reid, right, beat Alfie Hewett in the men's singles final at Rio 2016
Great Britain’s Gordon Reid, right, beat Alfie Hewett in the men’s singles final at Rio 2016 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Norwich-born Hewett – the reigning French Open singles champion – would relish another Paralympic singles showdown with his long-time doubles partner and vowed to be “more ruthless” should it come to fruition.

“He fully deserved to win on that day and he got the better of me on that occasion and I hold nothing against him for it,” he said, reflecting on Rio.

“I hope that it is another British final, I wish him all the best with it, I hope it’s the same as it was in Rio and of course if it comes to that stage then I think I will be a little bit more ruthless next time.

“At the time, I was extremely disappointed, when it was raw; sitting on that podium afterwards I didn’t maybe appreciate what I had achieved at the time

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“I look back now and think, ‘crikey, I’ve got some job to do to try and beat that’.”

Earlier this month, Hewett and Reid became the most successful all-British doubles pair having won 11 grand slam titles together following glory at the French Open.

Scotsman Reid believes doubt about his team-mate’s future has had a positive impact on results and hopes for a favourable resolution.

“From my point of you, I’ve tried to not make it a big thing,” said the 29-year-old.

“It’s obviously much more difficult for Alfie, the situation he’s in, the fact that it could be that this is his last year on tour.

“There’s still opportunity and still space for that to change and fingers crossed it will.

“We’ve just tried to go into every event playing like it was our last and you’ve seen that from Alfie’s singles results but also from the doubles side of it.

“We tried to just make the most of it every time – I feel like results have improved because of that.”

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