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Alfie Hewett is fired up for another tilt at a first Wimbledon singles title that he also knows could be his last.
Britain’s biggest wheelchair tennis star is in the best form of his life, having reached four successive slam singles finals, winning back-to-back French Open titles, and six doubles crowns in a row with Scot Gordon Reid.
Hewett, ranked second in the world behind Japan’s Shingo Kunieda, is relishing being back at the All England Club, where he is yet to go beyond the semi-finals in singles.
He told the PA news agency: “There will be a very high expectation of mine to go and win it.
“It will be extremely tough because I do think other players are probably more favoured in terms of their confidence levels and their styles on grass but I’ve been playing some of my best tennis and that’s all I can focus on. Hopefully it can go my way.”
Hewett is only 23 but has been playing on borrowed time for nearly two years since the International Tennis Federation changed the rules on classification and ruled that the Norwich player’s disability – he was diagnosed as a child with Perthes disease, which affects the hip and pelvis – was not severe enough.
With no other option for disabled athletes within tennis other than the wheelchair category, Hewett was staring at an extremely premature end to his career.
The rules were supposed to come into force for 2021 but that was put back following the coronavirus pandemic and the postponement of the Paralympic Games, and Hewett will be able to compete in Tokyo.
New hope has also arrived in the form of sport-specific research being done into the tennis classification system – previously it was based on para-athletics – that could lead to a rethink.
That Hewett has managed to play his best tennis with a sword effectively hanging over his head is testament to his mental strength – he is renowned for his comebacks and recovered from 1-5 in the deciding set of his French Open semi-final against Gustavo Fernandez, saving three match points.
The ellesse athlete said: “It’s difficult. I’ve gone through stages, whether it was angry, frustrated, unsure – there’s a lot of uncertainty going on in my life.
“It’s what I get up for in the mornings; to train, to compete, to play at the slams, to be the best wheelchair tennis player I can be. It’s a massive part of me.
“Obviously initially it was a massive thing to take and I struggled but I think I’ve really channelled it in a way that’s been quite positive to my tennis because I’ve used it not only in matches but also in training, to work harder, to get better, and that pressure of maybe not being there at an event next year means that I have to perform in the now.
“It’s made me look at everything with a magnifying glass. Now I feel like there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that’s not anything I can control.
“The conversations will be had. The decisions may or may not get overturned and that’s really out of my power. And letting go of that, trying to focus on what I can do, is the only thing I can do.”
Hewett hopes the sense of urgency will propel him to success at Wimbledon but he will be proud of his career whatever the future holds.
“There’s the drive to want to make sure that at least, if it’s my last year, make it a good experience,” he said. “But I also think it’s accepting that if it’s not going to be the case then I can be OK without it.
“I think there was a point in my life where I was so focused that I wanted to win every grand slam singles and doubles title. And then this classification has come up and has maybe hindered my goals and what I want to achieve in the sport.
“That’s why Australia was tough because I wanted that singles title to add to the collection and I didn’t get it, but I know I can walk away and it’s not going to kill me.”
:: Alfie Hewett is an ellesse athlete. For more information visit www.ellesse.com, insta @ellesse_uk