Alfie Hewett won his seventh wheelchair Grand Slam doubles title and first Australian Open
Australian Open wheelchair doubles champion Alfie Hewett has been told he cannot compete beyond this year because his disability is not severe enough.
Hewett, who has Perthes disease which affects his hip and femur, and partner Gordon Reid beat Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer in Friday’s final.
Hewett does not meet new classification rules introduced last August.
“There’s a new system that’s come in, and I just don’t meet the requirements for it,” Hewett, 22, told BBC Sport.
“But there’s no other option for me, because I’m not able to compete on my feet.”
The 22-year-old became very emotional as he and Reid celebrated a 4-6 6-4 (10-7) win over the top seeds at Melbourne Park.
In future, eligibility will be determined by an evaluation rather than a player’s self-assessment. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) says the new rules will “improve the integrity of classification”.
“I know there’s been a lot of noise in the last six months, and the decisions have been made now,” Hewett continued.
“At the moment it is my last year, so that’s why today meant a lot to me. And obviously Gio (Reid) knew that as well, and 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 has now won seven Grand Slam titles alongside Hewett, has huge sympathy for his doubles partner.
“It’s obviously been tough,” he said.
“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.”
Players have the right to appeal, but it is likely to prove quite a challenge should Hewett decide to go down that route.
A spokesperson for the LTA said: “We are supporting all the players on our world class programme through the new classification process. That process is still ongoing, we are continuing to liaise with the ITF on it – therefore won’t be commenting on any specific player cases.”
The ITF website says players are eligible to compete in the open wheelchair division “if they have a permanent physical disability that results in substantial loss of function in one or both lower extremities (limbs), and that meets or exceeds the sport’s eligibility criteria”.
The rules have also been approved by the International Paralympic Committee.
Another player who affected by the new regulations is the Dutch five-time Grand Slam champion Marjolein Buis.
When she announced her intention to retire at the end of the year, she accused the authorities of “taking away my job and my passion”.
Whiley win eases pain of missing son’s birthday
Jordanne Whiley (left) won her third Australian Open doubles title
Briton Jordanne Whiley won her first Grand Slam title on Friday since returning to the sport after the birth of her son.
The 27-year-old and Japanese partner Yui Kamiji defeated Dutch top seeds Diede de Groot and Aniek van Koot 6-2 6-4.
Whiley said the victory eased the pain of having missed her son Jackson’s second birthday, which was on Thursday.
“I’ve been away for three weeks now and that’s the longest I’ve been away from him so it’s been really difficult,” said Whiley, who won her third Australian doubles title.
“And to have his second birthday yesterday was really emotional for me to be here. But I said to Marc, his dad, my coach and fiance, that if I’m going to be away from him then I have to make everything count.
“So I’m really pleased I’m bringing home the title. That’s something that has really aided my performances coming back. I don’t want to waste any time while I’m away.”