Alfie Hewett targeting tennis medal in Rio
It’s been a whirlwind few months for the Norwich-born 18-year-old Paralympian after becoming a Wimbledon champion earlier this year for the first time with his doubles partner Gordon Reid – and his next big target is a medal in Rio.
“It’s been an unbelievable few months,” explained the Lord’s Taverners ambassador before he headed off to Rio for his event which starts on 9 September. “To be selected for the Paralympics and then winning Wimbledon with Gordon was really special and now our focus is on Rio.”
The journey on that road to South America began when Alfie was just six months old and underwent surgery for a congenital heart defect. Then, at the age of six, he was disagnosed with Perthes Disease in his left hip – a condition that left him confined to a wheelchair.
Less than two years later, after receiving his first sports wheelchair from the Lord’s Taverners, Alfie picked up a tennis racket for the first time, and with the help of grandad, David Hooper, he reached world no.1 in junior tennis. His rise has continued ever since.
The Lord’s Taverners have continued to support Alfie. His newest wheelchair, in use in Rio, has been made possible thanks to a 50% contribution from the UK’s leading youth cricket and disability sports charity.
Alfie added: “The Lord’s Taverners got me my first sports wheelchair when I was eight and that’s where is all started. At that age, I wanted to do activities and participate in sport, but I wasn’t able to. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I wasn’t really enjoying life, but after I received the chair I was able to join clubs and take part in disabled sport, which really benefited me socially and physically.
“I can’t thank the Lord’s Taverners enough for the support, and hopefully this new chair will help me raise my game just that little bit [more]. It’s also really important for safety. If I went to Rio with only one chair and it breaks, I wouldn’t have a back-up chair to use as a replacement.”
But with Rio just a few days away, does Alfie feel ready as he prepares to compete in both the singles and men’s doubles?
“I think I’ve been ready for a while now,” said the tennis star who lists Roger Federer as his favourite player. “It’s weird, because I don’t actually feel nervous or excited yet. Once I get there I’ll probably become a nervous wreck, but I think that will come more from the off-the-court distractions.
“I don’t think the on-court stuff will affect me much in terms of it being the Paralympics, because Wimbledon proved that I could play well on the big occasion. One of my best qualities is that when I’m in a pressure situation, I like to go for my shots instead of holding back. That showed at Wimbledon, and if I’m in a similar position at the games I’ll do the same.
“I’m most looking forward to seeing what the atmosphere’s going to be like. I know London 2012 was incredible – I managed to go for a few days and see it, and I’m gutted I wasn’t in the team then for the home games – but I hope it will be just as good in Rio. I think if I played a Brazilian that would be a highlight; I would love to have the whole crowd against me!”
It was a record medal haul for Team GB at the Olympics. Does Alfie think he can match their achievements and bring home a medal of his own?
“I think if you’d asked me that a year ago, I’d have said my main aim would be to have fun and experience the atmosphere,” he explained. “I never thought at my first games I’d be trying to compete for a medal!
“Gordon and I have come a long way since then, and we’re second seeds going into these games. Technically, that means we’re expected to win silver, so I’m going into the games with the expectation of getting a medal in the doubles.
“There are a lot of other nations who have the same target, but I strongly believe that we can get the gold, and we’re going to try and do everything in our power to do so – we’re not going to leave any stone unturned when we get off that court.
“In the singles tournament, I’m not expected to win a medal, but I know that I can. I know that on my day I can beat anyone. Over the last six months, I’ve really improved my game – I’ve reached world no. 10, I’ve beaten a few of the top 10 players, I’ve taken the world no. 1 to three sets, so there’s no reason that I can’t beat any of those guys.”