‘Floods of tears’: Wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett cleared to keep playing

‘Floods of tears’: Wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett cleared to keep playing

Alfie Hewett has spoken of the intense relief and his “floods of tears” after he was cleared to continue his career in wheelchair tennis after a change in classification rules.

The 18-time grand slam champion had been expected to retire from his sport at the age of just 23 after the International Tennis Federation ruled that Perthes disease, a condition which affects Hewett that limits hip movement, was not sufficiently debilitating to necessitate the use of a wheelchair.

A suspended sentence had hung over Hewett for two years as first the pandemic and then an appeal process held off implementation of the decision. But just a week after bidding farewell to his doubles partner, Gordon Reid, with whom he has won an astonishing 13 slam titles, Hewett confirmed he is set to keep playing.

Hewett visited Amsterdam last week for new classification tests, with the ITF adjusting their criteria to eliminate from competition only those who could realistically compete while standing.

“I barely got a wink of sleep the night before so I was pretty drained, just floods of tears,” Hewett said of the moment he learned of the decision. “I did have a glass of bubbly at the airport but the first thing I wanted to do was get some sleep because I was exhausted. Mentally and emotionally it was a very draining experience but obviously the best one.

“Only now I realise how much it all really weighed on me. You’ve probably all felt it in your lives at some point when something so heavy is taken away you actually feel that lift off your shoulders, and I did. I just felt so much relief.”

The Norfolk-born player received his assessment last week and revealed the news unexpectedly to a group of students after accepting an honorary degree from Easton and City College in Norwich. “I can actually tell you there will be more Alfie Hewett grand slams and Paralympics in the years to come,” he told the students. “My agent will shoot me for saying this, but I don’t care.”

Hewett will now be able to compete in the Australian Open in January, where he lost in the final to Belgium’s Joachim Gerard in 2021. But the prospect of pairing up again with Reid will be just as important. The two men have dominated wheelchair doubles since forming their partnership five years ago and this year completed the calendar slam, winning at Flushing Meadows alongside Emma Raducanu.

Last week, Hewett summed up his feelings about the partnership on Twitter. “Gordon, It’s been an absolute pleasure to be on this journey with you, whatever happens next I can always look back on the incredible memories we’ve made as a partnership. Thank you pal.”