Lifting his fourth Wimbledon doubles title with partner Gordon Reid one year ago, Alfie Hewett’s smile concealed an impending dread.
The 19-time Grand Slam winner feared he might never play at the All England Club again.
After changes to International Tennis Federation classification rules deemed him ineligible to compete in wheelchair events beyond the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the Norwich-born star faced an enforced early retirement.
Mercifully, tennis’ governing body would amend its criteria in late 2021 and lift a near 24-month cloud which had hung over the tennis ace’s head.
Speaking prior to his first Wimbledon campaign after the ordeal, Hewett detailed how the experience impacted his approach to the game and the joy he now feels in contesting another home slam.
He said: “It’s amazing to have that chance again.
“That story feels like a lifetime ago now, it’s a completely new mindset with my tennis and, to be fair even with day-to-day life.
“It was such a big weight on my shoulders that I didn’t know what was around the corner and then to have the decision reversed and to be able to continue playing was an incredible feeling.
“For the first few tournaments and events it was a bit of a relief to go out there and not worry that this could be the last time.
“But I think that’s sort of worn off now and I’m back into the competitive mindset of just preparing to win.
“This year I feel like I’m a lot freer in everything that I’m doing so it’s fun.”
At just 24 years old Hewett’s, presumably carrier-sized, trophy cabinet lacks few items.
The most notable omission being a Wimbledon singles crown, though he and partner Reid did secure their third Grand Slam of 2021 at SW19 12 months ago.
In fact, it was the third part of what would become a clean sweep of the four major double titles and, with their most recent success at Roland Garros, the pair are on a ludicrous run of ten consecutive slams.
Yet still, Hewett seeks improvement, particularly on the grass, explaining how tweaks to his style have improved his play on the surface.
He said: “It’s just adapting, grass isn’t a natural surface, I didn’t grow up playing on it.
“When you talk about game styles, I don’t have a massive serve, I didn’t have the feel as much, especially when you compare it to some of the other players.
“I think that’s why I’ve struggled in the past and obviously movement is a massive thing.
“I rely heavily on that fluidity on the court, whereas that doesn’t happen on grass, you need strength.
“I’ve been working a lot on the weaknesses I probably had that people would expose previously.
“I feel great on the practice court, I feel more at one with it than before.
“I saw that in Queen’s,” he added on a campaign which saw him reach the semi-finals of the men’s wheelchair singles.
“Also just understanding that, even if it’s not this year it could be next year.
“I’m feeling a lot happier than in previous years.”
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