Alfie Hewett’s magnificent 2016 is set to conclude with the Rio Paralympic silver medallist unexpectedly making his debut at next week’s NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters in London.
The 18-year-old will join seven of the world’s other leading players in the men’s line-up for the year-end singles championship. The event takes place at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on 30 November to 4 December.
And Hewett has a double reason to celebrate this week with a semi-final berth at last week’s ITF 1 Series Bath Indoor having earned him a career best singles ranking of No. 7.
British No.2 Hewett narrowly missed out on automatic qualification for this year’s NEC Masters after occupying the world No. 8 men’s singles ranking in the first week of October as he went into the US Open USTA Championships. However, Dutchman Maikel Scheffers moved ahead of Hewett at the cut-off date a week later to earn his qualification, although Hewett went on to regain his place in the world’s top eight in mid-October.
But with Shingo Kunieda, world No. 7 at the cut-off, having now withdrawn from the NEC Masters due to injury, Hewett will line up in the elite field alongside fellow Brit Gordon Reid, with whom Hewett shared the men’s singles and men’s doubles medal podiums in Rio.
“The Masters is a real bonus for me, I wasn’t expecting to achieve it this year, so I’m really excited to get the opportunity,” said Hewett, one of five Brits on the Tennis Foundation’s Wheelchair Tennis World Class Programme who will now contest the NEC Masters.
“To be honest I was a bit gutted that I had got so close at the cut-off date last month, only to be world ranked No. 9 in the week that it counted. But I went to the USA and Canada after the Paralympics purely to try and give myself the chance of getting as close to the top seven as possible, as being top seven makes me eligible for direct entry for future Grand Slams.”
As things transpired, Hewett has now earned his first world top seven ranking after defeating Scheffers 6-0, 6-3 in the quarter-finals of last week’s Bath Indoor. He subsequently bowed out in the semi-finals after being edged out 6-4 6-4 by Argentina’s Gustavo Fernandez.
“After being awarded the wild card for Wimbledon this year it’s only my second time playing in an event contested by just eight of the wold’s top players and after the year I’ve had I’m playing better and more consistent tennis for longer periods, so feel I can compete at this level.
Now, staying in the top seven after the Masters is in my own hands and I can dictate my own fate, which is the way I like it.”
The NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters is the International Tennis Federation’s year-end championship for the world’s top ranked wheelchair tennis singles players. The top eight men’s and women’s players and the top six quad players in the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Rankings are invited to battle it out to be crowned master of their division. Buy your tickets now.