Alfie Hewett: Britain’s First Parisian Champion

The wheelchair tennis events were again a forgotten – yet crucial – part of the Roland Garros tournament schedule.

At the age of just 19, Britain’s Alfie Hewett has become the first player from his country to win a wheelchair singles title at the only clay-court Grand Slam in tennis, and still his name remains unknown to the vast majority.

As Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal stole the headlines with his record tenth French Open title on Sunday 11 June, 24 hours after Ladies’ singles champion Jelena Ostapenko had done likewise by shocking world no. 2 Simona Halep to win her own maiden title, one 19-year-old from Norfolk had his achievements wrongly overlooked to the fortune of those above.

With Nadal and Ostapenko bounded by the world’s media, Hewett has since returned home with only the most hardened of tennis fans – and locals – recognising him, with fewer still able to recount his name.

Time for Change

16 years have passed since one of tennis’ most iconic names, Lleyton Hewitt, stormed to a US Open title and then to the world no. 1 ranking – the youngest man to achieve such a feat in the singles game, at the age of just 20.

Fast forward to 2017 and a new star continues to introduce himself on the world stage, with Hewett becoming the first British player to win a wheelchair singles title on the famous red clay of Roland Garros.

Nevertheless, whilst Hewitt’s first Grand Slam singles title escalated him to becoming one of the most well-known names in sport and provided him with the wealth to match, Hewett left Paris with an extra €35,000 in his pocket, along with perhaps a couple of hundred extra followers on the tour.

Granted, €35,000 is not a level of remuneration to be taken lightly. In fact, it is the type of money that the vast majority of us can only dream of making from just a week’s work.

Rafael Nadal’s tenth French Open title was worth in excess of €2 million.

Norwich’s Hewett, in comparison, is unknown to a significant proportion of his home city’s population. 

However, that total remains a whole €4,000 less than the €39,000 handed to the winner of the Trophee Des Legendes – traditionally an exhibition event for past retired players who lit up tennis courts around the world several years, even decades, ago.

To put Hewett’s winnings into perspective, the Brit’s prize money was equal to that earned by the 128 male and female singles players who failed to win a single match in Paris, and exists at just a fraction of the €2,100,000 collected by both Nadal and Ostapenko.

What is more, when considering the magnitude of endorsement deals that will likely be offered to the Spanish and Latvian champions as a result of their still greater visibility from such successes, as celebrities of their sport and of society, and the margin of economic gain intensifies yet further.

An Unknown Champion

In becoming the first British player to win a wheelchair singles title at Roland Garros, Hewett may be celebrating his first Grand Slam title in the singles game, but that title follows almost a year after slam number one was achieved on the lawns of south-west London alongside fellow Brit, Gordon Reid, almost 12 months ago.

The SW19 winner is also a double Paralympic Games silver medallist from Rio 2016, and he secured his latest triumph against all odds.

Just hours before falling to defeat in the wheelchair doubles final with Reid at his side, Hewett was forced to come back from suffering a bagel loss in the first set – as well as two match points in the second – of his singles final against world no. 4 Gustavo Fernandez, eventually defeating the Argentine in three (0-6, 7-6 [11-9], 6-2).

Having achieved such incredible feats at this early stage of what promises to be an exceptional career at the pinnacle of his sport, it is time the world no. 6 finally received the credit he deserves, and the type of recognition so many others are exposed to without second thought.

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