French Open 2020: Britain's Alfie Hewett completes double by winning singles title

Britain’s Alfie Hewett won his second title of the 2020 French Open by beating Belgium’s Joachim Gerard in the wheelchair men’s singles final.

Hewett, who won the doubles event with Gordon Reid on Friday, won 6-4 4-6 6-3 to seal his fourth singles Grand Slam.

He trailed 3-1 in the decider, received treatment for a left shoulder issue but returned take the next five games.

It is the second time he has won the singles title at Roland Garros and his 13th Slam win in singles and doubles.

“I hope to get a good pizza in tonight to celebrate,” Hewett ,22, said.

“It’s amazing to come here today and get the double. Me and my left shoulder are ready for a break.”

As Hewett served for the match there was a lengthy delay at 15-15 because of an mechanical issue with Gerard’s chair.

When play resumed Hewett won the next three points, sealing the match after two hours 36 minutes with a volley at the net.

Hewett’s win with Reid on Friday meant the British pair completed a clean sweep of the doubles titles in the three Grand Slams available this year.

He also reached the singles final at the US Open last month.

Hewett – who has Perthes disease which affects his hip and femur – had been told earlier this year that 2020 would be his final year on the circuit because his disability is not severe enough to meet new classification criteria but he was given a 12-month reprieve last month.

There were defeats, however, for Britons Andy Lapthorne and Jordanne Whiley in the men’s quad singles final and women’s wheelchair doubles final respectively.

Lapthorne was beaten 6-2 6-2 by Dylan Alcott of Australia, while Whiley and partner Yui Kamiji lost on a match tie-break 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 10-8 to Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot.

After his defeat Lapthorne, 29, said he would take a break from tennis because of mental health issues.

Australian Open 2020: Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid win men's doubles wheelchair final

Alfie Hewett celebrated an Australian Open title that he is expecting to be his last after being told he does not meet new classifications for wheelchair tennis.

The 22-year-old teamed up with fellow British player Gordon Reid to beat French top seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer 4-6 6-4 (10-7) in the men’s doubles final.

Hewett, who has two Paralympic silver medals and nine grand slam titles across singles and doubles, has Perthes disease, which affects the hip and femur.

He told BBC Sport: “There’s a new system that’s come in, and I just don’t meet the requirements for it. But there’s no other option for me, because I’m not able to compete on my feet.

“I’m kind of just using it to my advantage at the moment. At the moment it is my last year, so that’s why today meant a lot to me. Coming into that third set tie-break, it was just a case of going out there and giving it my all.

“I shed a few tears at the end, and back in the locker room. We’ve had a great time together, and a good adventure, and if this is the last time I play the Australian Open, then it’s very, very happy memories.”

Reid, who will contest the singles final against Shingo Kunieda of Japan, said: “It’s obviously been tough.

“I can’t imagine putting myself in Alfie’s position. Classification in Paralympic sport is a very controversial subject, one that’s never going to be perfect, and there’s always going to be someone that misses out.

“Things could change – I wouldn’t be surprised if they did – and hopefully this isn’t the last year we see Alfie playing wheelchair tennis.”

Andy Lapthorne, the British No 1 quad wheelchair star reflected on his defeat to Australia’s Dylan Alcott by acknowledging the passionate support he received from the crowd.

“From all four corners there were people shouting me on, I really wasn’t expecting the amount of support I got and it shocked me when I got out onto court and heard that especially from people I didn’t know,” he told Sky Sports.

“It just brought back memories of when I’ve been here cheering Andy Murray on and it was on another level to be down on that court myself and be that guy because that’s why we play and that’s why we work so hard.

“I can take so much from today it was an amazing experience and hearing the noise that was created in there for a wheelchair tennis match is unreal.”

'I am puzzled as to why they want to exclude me' - Alfie Hewett on being told he is not disabled enough to play his sport

The International Tennis Federation decided that Hewitt was not disabled enough to play in its tournaments.

After the last ball of January’s wheelchair doubles final was hit, the new Australian Open champion, Alfie Hewett, pushed himself over to fellow Briton Gordon Reid for a celebratory high-five. Then he dissolved into tears….

Alfie Hewett: ‘My sport is being snatched from me. It’s not fair’

For most elite sportspeople in Britain the Covid-19 lockdown is a temporary, if painful, episode. For Britain’s three-time wheelchair tennis grand-slam event champion and Paralympic silver medallist Alfie Hewett, coronavirus brings added anguish.

Mercifully for one born with a congenital heart defect that required surgery at six months, and a victim of rare hip abnormality Perthes Disease, Hewett’s physical health is not at issue. The torment is, however, real.

Following revisions to the wheelchair tennis classifications made by the International Tennis Federation and approved by the International Paralympic Committee last year, Hewett was advised that 2020 would be his last season in a sport that has shaped his life.

His ability to walk, though severely impaired, took him outside the new regulations. At 22 years old you can imagine the sense of devastation evinced, a situation compounded by a lethal pandemic that has already seen Wimbledon wiped from the calendar and the Olympic Games postponed.

The French Open has been rescheduled for September and the US Open hangs on to its 24 August start date for now, but neither can be confident of surviving. The hope is that those who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics will still be able to compete in 2021, but that has still to be confirmed by the ITF. So Hewett waits while what remains of his astonishing career is suspended in a state of wicked uncertainty.

“I’ve been keeping on a physical programme, watching matches and keeping that tennis brain active,” he says. “It is a strange period. As things stand, my career will have to finish at the end of the year. With this pandemic going on there is obviously a bigger picture. I just hope they will allow me and the other athletes affected to compete in the Games next year.”

Hewett first took to his wheelchair after being diagnosed with Perthes Disease, a condition that inhibits blood flow from the pelvis to the hip joint, at six years old. Successful treatment, which involves immediate wheelchair use to protect against load bearing on the legs, depends on early diagnosis. As a football-mad kid, Hewett ignored the early signs and played on with negative consequences in adulthood. Though walking is possible, Hewett is not mobile in the conventional sense and nowhere near athletic in any meaningful way while upright.

“I want to carry on competing for the foreseeable future, not just an extra year,” he says. “Obviously the ITF have a lot on their plate deciding what happens with Olympic qualification, classification, rankings, points systems, etc. Questions have been asked from my side whether this is going to be my final year. It is still unknown.”

Over and above the Olympic situation, there is a sense of injustice around the treatment of Hewett, and others similarly affected, for whom the able-bodied game is not an option. “It’s not fair,” he says. “I was allowed into the sport when I was eight or nine. There were certain rules and guidelines then. I have played for 13 years. I have had an unbelievable career. I’m proud of where I have got. There has been a lot of sacrifice and hard work. I wanted to get to the top and make it a full-time living. Just as I reach that point, these guidelines have come in and it has affected where I stand.”

What should be an uplifting story about a boy overcoming not one, but two chronic health conditions to carve his place in the world through wheelchair sport has turned into a political mess. Not only is Hewett denied a future, his achievements, which include two US Opens and a French Open singles title and five major doubles titles, plus two Paralympic silvers, might be construed by those of a cynical disposition as tainted.

“The decision makes you out to be a fraud almost,” Hewett says. “If you look at the top 10 there is such a range of disabilities, and everyone beats everyone. If it was clear that my disability was giving me an advantage and I was sweeping up left, right and centre you could argue maybe it wasn’t fair. But the truth is I have no advantage over other players. In a wheelchair my legs aren’t being used.”

Hewett’s account of his condition shines a harsh light on the rules changes. “Perthes varies from person to person,” he says. “The severity from the beginning depends on circumstances. As a six or seven year-old you don’t want to be told you can’t run around and play football. I loved playing football. I must have been undiagnosed for eight months to a year. My parents and friends thought I was whinging about a couple of bad slide tackles. But being on my feet and still running around was making the condition a lot worse. It just got to a point where I was in absolute agony. I collapsed. I couldn’t put any weight through my leg. An ambulance came and I was rushed to hospital. I came out of that in a wheelchair and my life changed from that moment.”

Understandably, Hewett is frustrated at the ruling. “They don’t understand what I’ve had to go through. I have had to come through a lot of adversity. I never dreamed of being a wheelchair tennis player when I was three of four years old. I wanted to be a footballer, then life throws this monster at you. I had to overcome that and all the mental and social struggles that go with it. I found disability sport. I played wheelchair basketball and tennis and created a job for myself. To make a living from a wheelchair sport is rare. We are so lucky in what wheelchair tennis has to offer and now it is being snatched out of my hand through no fault of my own.”

Hewett’s powerful testimony begs the question why the authorities cannot refine the regulations still further to create a category that would allow similarly affected athletes to continue in the sport. “I know what I felt when I first got in that chair. It gave me a new purpose in life. I would hate for a seven-year-old with Perthes today, or another disability, to be denied that opportunity because their condition no longer fits the criteria. It turned my life around. It has been one hell of a ride. That’s where it gets to me, the idea that it might prevent others from doing what I did. It’s not right.”

Head to Head: Alfie Hewett vs Gordon Reid

Ahead of their match in today’s US Open men’s wheelchair singles opening round, we take a closer look at the history between team mates, and rivals, Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid.

Going into today’s contest, their head-to-head record on the international stage is tightly poised at 12-12. Here, we dig deeper into how their careers have developed to date.

Reid’s early dominance

The two Brits have been a feature at the top of their sport for several years. Hewett is a three-time Grand Slam champion, Reid has won two, and as a partnership they have claimed a remarkable seven men’s doubles Slam victories – all since 2017.

But on their journey to the summit of wheelchair tennis, the pair have faced off regularly against one another – first meeting in 2013 at the North East Wheelchair Tournament. Reid would triumph 6-0 6-1 over Hewett, and would go on to his next six meetings against his future doubles partner.

Hewett, who is now the British No.1 and World No.3, wouldn’t defeat Reid for four years – making his breakthrough in the semi-final stage of the 2017 Sydney International Open.

2013 North East Wheelchair Tournament First Round Gordon Reid 6-0 6-1
2014 Bolton Indoor First Round Gordon Reid 6-2 6-1
2014 Open de La Baie Somme Quarter-final Gordon Reid 6-3 6-3
2014 Nottingham Indoor Round of 16 Gordon Reid 6-4 6-1
2015 Sydney International Open Round of 16 Gordon Reid 6-0 7-5
2016 Japan Open Round of 32 Gordon Reid 6-2 2-6 6-1
2016 Paralympic Games First Round Gordon Reid 6-2 6-1

Times they are a-changin’ in 2017

Hewett’s first win against his close friend and doubles partner would not be his last of a 2017 which proved to be a huge year for both men.

The duo would be involved in a number of firsts in the wheelchair game. They featured in the first all-Brit men’s singles semi-final at the British Open, thefirst all-Brit men’s singles semi-final at a Grand Slam in the US Open, and Hewett would win his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros (Reid won two Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2016).

In total the pair faced off against each other on seven occasions – Reid won three and Hewett won four.

2017 Sydney International Open Semi-final Alfie Hewett 7-5 6-2
2017 Melbourne Open Semi-final Gordon Reid 6-4 3-6 6-2
2017 ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament Quarter-final Gordon Reid 6-0 6-4
2017 SA Open Quarter-final Gordon Reid 6-4 3-6 6-1
2017 British Open Semi-final Alfie Hewett 6-3 1-6 6-3
2017 US Open Semi-final Alfie Hewett 7-5 5-7 7-6 (8)
2017 NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters First Round Alfie Hewett 6-3 6-2

Hewett on top since 2019

Following a blockbuster 2017 for both men 2018 was also evenly-matched – the duo met on four occasions winning two apiece – but since 2019 Hewett has dominated.

Hewett – who won the US Open in 2018 and 2019 – was forced to work hard in his last encounter with Reid, winning 7-5 7-5 in a match held last week at LTA Wheelchair Tennis Series at the National Tennis Centre, and he will have to overcome his fellow Brit once again if he is to make it a three-peat of titles in New York.

2018 Sydney Open Semi-final Alfie Hewett 6-0 6-4
2018 ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament Semi-final Alfie Hewett 6-0 7-5
2018 Japan Open Semi-final Gordon Reid 6-2 6-3
2018 Roland Garros Quarter-final Gordon Reid 6-4 6-4
2019 Georgia Open Quarter-final Alfie Hewett 7-5 6-2
2019 Cajun Classic Quarter-final Alfie Hewett 6-3 6-1
2019 Korea Open Semi-final Alfie Hewett 7-6 (3) 6-3
2019 Fever-Tree Championships First Round Alfie Hewett 6-2 7-5
2020 Melbourne Open Quarter-final Alfie Hewett 4-6 7-5 6-4
2020 ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament               First Round Alfie Hewett 6-0 6-3