13 Jul 2017

Defending Wimbledon champions bow out early

News Article

By Clive White

Photo: Takeo TanumaStefan Olsson (SWE)

WIMBLEDON: Gordon Reid, the Rio Paralympic gold and silver medallist, is discovering just how difficult it is to stay on top when everyone is gunning for you.

This week he lost his world No. 1 ranking to Gustavo Fernandez after his points for winning the 2016 Wimbledon wheelchair singles came off and on Thursday the defending champion lost in the first round at the All England Club, just as he did at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.

His rival and doubles partner, Alfie Hewett, thought it was an indication of how the sport is changing, almost from week to week.

Part of the problem is that because these are elite fields Reid is drawing difficult opposition from the word go: in Melbourne he lost to the former world No. 1 Joachim Gerard and in Paris he lost to the soon-to-be world No. 1 Fernandez.

It will be the margin of those defeats that most concern Reid, who was well beaten here 62 63 by the man he beat in last year’s final, Sweden’s Stefan Olsson. Olsson’s weight of shot seemed to be the difference between the two men.

“It’s maybe partly psychological, feeling that extra pressure, expecting more from yourself because of last year,” said Reid. “Sitting on top of the rankings, getting chased by everyone and you’re no longer the underdog. Maybe [you] tighten up a bit because of that.”

The speed of Reid’s defeat almost caught out his friend Hewett, who followed him on Court 17. The new Roland Garros champion had to come from behind to beat Nicolas Peifer, of France, 46 62 62.

“I was quite stressed,” he said. “I wasn’t prepared. I was expecting Gordon’s match to be a little bit longer so I was rushing around, getting racquets done, getting changed, but I knew after that first set I would calm down and become more relaxed.”

Much like Reid, who would have preferred more time to prepare for the event, Hewett would like to have had a few more weeks in the gym to build up his pecs and shoulders, which is so important on grass. He would love to emulate Reid and win the singles here.

“The game has grown so much in depth,” said Hewett. “If you looked at the game a couple of years ago you would have said Shingo [Kunieda] and maybe [Stephane] Houdet were on a different level to everyone else whereas in this Grand Slam I couldn’t write anyone off.

“If you look at the seeds who have gone through today it’s six, seven and eight plus the No. 2. I wouldn’t be surprised if the top four at the end of the year is completely different to what it is now.”

Hewett now faces Fernandez, who put in a tremendous amount of work over the winter, as did Olsson. “If Gordon had been playing his best tennis today it would have been an interesting match because I was playing my best,” said Olsson.

Olsson has changed his chair, which he said enables him to move around faster, get to the ball earlier and hit it a little bit heavier. “I think my biggest chance of winning a Grand Slam is here because I love the grass,” he said.

Kunieda has his own reasons for wanting to do well here because it’s the only Grand Slam he hasn’t won. In fact he hadn’t even played singles on the surface until he beat Maikel Scheffers, of the Netherlands, 63 62 on Thursday. He was blowing heavily afterwards, an indication of how hard he found it.

The women’s event experienced a major upset when Jiske Griffioen, the double Rio Paralympic gold medallist, lost 63 62 to her compatriot and doubles partner Aniek Van Koot. Another sign of the changing times?