Alfie Hewett on inspiring disabled people to take up tennis

Alfie Hewett on inspiring disabled people to take up tennis

Alfie Hewett Celebrates

Alfie Hewett is enjoying being the world’s best wheelchair tennis player to inspire disabled people to take up the sport.

The 25-year-old from Norfolk won the singles and doubles crowns at the Australian Open in January to reach the top of the rankings following the retirement of Japanese great Shingo Kunieda, taking his Grand Slam record to 23.

Hewett will be targeting his first Wimbledon singles this summer, and was in Loughborough earlier this month in the Vodafone-powered tournament, which gives grassroots players the chance to play across England. Club and this year will feature Visual Impairment, Learning Disability and Wheelchair categories.

The Lawn Tennis Association has made it its main goal to open tennis to everyone and Hewett is excited to see opportunities for players with disabilities.

He told the PA news agency: “I was talking to some of the lads and (the chance to play at Wimbledon) is the reason they came here. That kind of encouragement keeps them playing and brings more people to the sport, which is why I’m impressed.

“Seeing so many fresh faces means a lot to me. That’s what I want to try to do on stage – I want to see more disabled people given that opportunity.

Hewett experienced last summer what a powerful message he could send with his on-court accomplishments.

“She was a young local girl with leg cancer,” he said. “I spoke to her and her mum three or four months before Wimbledon.

“She was trying to play on her feet but she was struggling, she was very sick, but she didn’t want to play in a wheelchair because she was afraid of the perception.

“I gave her two tickets to come to Wimbledon and it completely changed her view of what Wimbledon was because it was normal – lots of people watching, singing and cheering.

“She is now part of the national age group programme, playing twice a week in a wheelchair. I talk to her and her mom every two weeks.

“It was a great insight for me personally to see the impact I can have on someone. I know there are a few others. This is what we can do and it’s a rewarding feeling to promote that and push that and if I change someone’s perception or give that whisper.

There are wheelchair events at all four Grand Slams and they have increased in profile in recent years.

The US Open and Australian Open have both doubled the size of their wheelchair draws in recent editions, opening up the event to more players.

Wimbledon is expected to have just eight players in both men’s and women’s singles in 2023, but matches will be played over five days instead of four and the finals will again be tied together.

Hewett, who reached his first Wimbledon singles final last year and lost in a thriller to Kunida, has previously called for better promotion of the events.

Alfie Hewett In Action
Alfie Hewett at the Your Way to Wimbledon event in Loughborough (Manuscript)

“Of course I love playing in these big stadiums – for myself, selfishly, it’s an incredible feeling,” he said.

“The last court memory was one of the best days of my life and it was amazing what it gave to my friends and family. But I also know that it encourages young people in wheelchairs to pick up a racket and pick up the sport.

“If it can be done, we have to make it happen. There’s no reason to be stuck on court 17 at Wimbledon on Sunday, why not get more people to see it and get people talking about it when it’s on TV? I don’t see what harm it could do.

Hewett hopes Wimbledon will soon increase their points to match the other Slams, “I have a good relationship with Wimbledon.” I know it doesn’t come out of nowhere that they don’t want to do it. But it is important that we have assurance that they will not ignore us.

“It would be good for more wheelchair players to experience what it’s like to play at Wimbledon, and a lot of English players will play.

“I think wheelchair tennis is at a better level than it’s ever been and there are only positive things that can happen with increasing draw sizes.”

– Play Your Way to Wimbledon, powered by Vodafone, is the UK’s biggest grassroots tennis tournament and is presented in partnership with the LTA, All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and Vodafone.


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