A silver medallist at the Rio 2016 Paralympic games at just eighteen years old, a former world number one in wheelchair tennis, and an eight-time Grand Slam winner in both singles and doubles events, Alfie Hewett has achieved success from a young age, and showed little sign of slowing down, reaching the semi-finals in the singles, and winning at the doubles (with partner Gorden Reid) at January’s Australian Open. That was until the coronavirus pandemic brought him, and the rest of the sporting world, to an abrupt halt. Hewett was just half an hour from his second round match at the ITF Georgia Open in March when the call came through that the tournament had been cancelled and he’d be on the next flight home. “It was a shock” Hewett told me.
After success in Melbourne, Alfie was confident with his performance on the court. “It’s frustrating because I had been feeling like I was consistently playing well, which is rare when you play so much tennis,” said Hewett in a Zoom interview with me on Friday. “It’s very much like a rollercoaster; one week you feel like you’re playing your A-game and the next it’s abysmal, but I was regularly reaching semi-finals and finals. I was getting very close and making ground on the rankings”.
Alfie’s successes saw him become singles world number one at just age 20, and success in Grand Slams both in singles and doubles event have seen him sponsored by British sports apparel company ellesse, alongside stars such as Johanna Konta.
Lockdown has been a culture shock to all of us, but few more than professional sportspeople. “I was doing at least six-day weeks, consisting of a double training session of on-court sessions, and then at least an hour of gym work a day” said Hewett, explaining his pre-lockdown training routine. “I then speak to psychologists and nutritionists…I have a really good support network around me and the hard graft had been paying off”.
Alfie struggled with the lack of routine that came after the lockdown order, as I’m sure we can all sympathise with. “It’s different! I’m so used to living out of a suitcase” he told me when I asked how life had changed since he’d been back home. “I was finding myself becoming lazy, and there is a time for that…but I was too busy focusing on what I couldn’t do, getting frustrated that I couldn’t hit and couldn’t go on a court”. He hadn’t held a racket for six weeks, which seems like an impossibility to one of the best wheelchair tennis players in the world, and understandably had a mental strain on Hewett himself. But he went on to tell me how he overcame these struggles.
“I was struggling to find that motivation to see any way of moving forward. It clicked when speaking to people around me. The main influence was structuring my days and once I understood that a switch flicked and now I find myself making the most of what I have and what I can do, rather than what I can’t.”
Hewett has converted his family’s conservatory into a mini gym, starting learning Japanese (on his girlfriend’s insistence), and bingeing Suits on Netflix, as well as keeping himself busy with meetings with coaches to keep himself sharp. “The house has never been so tidy!” he claimed.
“It’s about flipping the mindset…I’ve never been in a period where my next event is in 21 weeks”. When I asked him what he was looking forward to (apart from getting back to tennis), he told me “I’ve set myself a little to-do list of what I want to do in lockdown, and what I want to do once I get out of lockdown. Keep as busy as you can; whether that’s getting fit, or learning a new skill. It’s a great opportunity to do things you couldn’t normally do.”
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