Wheelchair tennis superstar Hewett: painful memories of Rio silver can propel me to gold in Tokyo

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Hewett, from Norfolk, has racked up a bulging haul of 16 Grand Slam titles since 2016
Hewett, from Norfolk, has racked up a bulging haul of 16 Grand Slam titles since 2016

Alfie Hewett says the ‘sour’ taste left by his pair of Paralympic silvers is fuelling his pursuit of going one better in Tokyo, writes Will Jennings.

Norfolk wheelchair tennis ace Hewett, 23, was officially selected in ParalympicsGB’s squad for this summer’s Games after enjoying a searing five years on the circuit.

He lifted both the men’s singles and doubles trophies at the French Open this month and has soared to a scintillating haul of 16 Grand Slam titles since 2016.

Hewett was pipped to Paralympic nirvana in Rio as he lost in both the singles and doubles finals – one with Gordon Reid, one against him – and hopes memories of mixed podium emotions can haul him to glory in Japan.

“It’s a weird emotion to try and sum up,” said Hewett, one of over 1,000 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme.

.“You’re obviously elated at the fact you’re on the podium with a silver medal round your neck, but also disappointed because you’ve just come off the back of a loss. 

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“It was actually quite sour. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I could have done.

“But coming away from Rio and reflecting on it, I realised that actually what I achieved out there was completely unexpected, and the impossible, for myself at the time. 

“I exceeded all those expectations and now I look at it as: ‘wow, I did something amazing.’ Now I’ve got to try and beat that, which is also something pretty tough to do.

"The two silvers in Rio add an extra element of expectation and pressure – if I’d previously not got that then I’d be going into it with lower expectations.“It was always one of my ambitions to get a Paralympic gold medal. It would be an absolute dream to go and do that.”

Hewett’s thrilling career on the court has been powered by UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme that allows him to train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support. 

He’s racked up a total of three Wimbledon, six US Open, five French Open and two Australian Open crowns since Rio and now sits proudly as world No.1 in both his singles and doubles disciplines.

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Hewett is acutely aware his career hangs in the balance, however, with new classification revisions due to be introduced at the end of this year seeing his disability – a rare hip abnormality known as Perthes Disease – no longer fit the criteria and fall outside the regulations.

But he insists he’s firmly focused on the here and now and that all he’s fixated on is the prospect of gold this summer.

Hewett, who is bidding to add the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding in 1997 in Tokyo, added: “It’s an honour and privilege to be able to put on that red, white and blue jersey and play for your country. 

“There’s a lot of hype and excitement toward the Olympics and Paralympics and to be involved in that as an athlete is a real credit to my work ethic, the people around me and the team that have supported me.

“[To win gold] would just be the result of all the years of hard work.” 

No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £36 million each week for good causes. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has on sport at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtags: #TNLAthletes #TracktoTokyo

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