01 Dec 2017

Brits fight back to reach NEC Masters semis

News Article

By Clive White

Photo: Tennis FoundationAlfie Hewett (GBR)

LOUGHBOROUGH: It was definitely a case of move over Alfie at the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters on Friday. Even the comeback king Alfie Hewett has never been as down and seemingly out as his British compatriot Gordon Red was here at the Sport Loughborough Tennis Centre.

Going 5-1 down in the deciding set after losing nine games on the trot and facing three match points against the world No. 1 Gustavo Fernandez, Reid was tantamount to being flat on his back while the referee counted to nine over him. Quite how the Scot managed to right himself and regain his senses sufficiently to win 63 16 75 would have been a mystery to Houdini.

Not to be outdone, Hewett then staged his own miraculous recovery, watched by 59,000 on live stream, as he came from a set and 3-1 down to save two match points and beat Stephane Houdet - something he hadn’t done in nine previous attempts - 26 76(8) 64.

It means that against all the odds Britain has two representatives in the men’s semifinals on Saturday. English sports fans whose appetite has been whetted by Friday’s World Cup draw will get an early chance to see what Belgians are made of when the Norwich City fan takes on Joachim Gerard, the two-time NEC Masters champion; Reid faces his fellow UNIQLO Global Brand Ambassador, the great Shingo Kunieda, so the Brits have it all still to do.

Gerard and Kunieda had sealed their passages through to the semifinals the previous day so both were able to swing away freely in their final round-robin matches: Gerard beat Nicolas Peifer, of France, 60 16 75 and Kunieda beat Stefan Olsson, of Sweden, 46 64 64.

Reid has suffered a bit of reaction to his hugely successful 2016 season during which he won gold and silver at the Rio Paralympics, two Grand Slams (Wimbledon and the Australian Open) and reached No. 1 in the world.

After the US Open this year he took a few weeks off from the sport in order to fall in love with it again and disclosed to itftennis.com this week that he was “close to feeling I ought to stop completely”.

His sports psychologist has impressed upon him the need to ignore the scoreline and results and focus on enjoying his tennis – easier said than done when you suffer the sort of turnaround in fortunes that he did against Fernandez on Friday.

 “It’s all about what I’m trying to do on a tennis court, especially with the way I’ve been feeling this year,” he said, “really reinforcing the reasons why I love playing tennis, trying to showcase all the skills and attributes I’ve got.

“It’s always the way I play my best tennis and I really felt that again today and I haven’t had that too much recently.”

In the first set Reid played sublimely and it was odds on the match would finish in straight sets, but the second set and half of the third got away from him alarmingly as the muscular Fernandez – who is not nicknamed Popeye for nothing – found an extra gear.

To say that Fernandez was gutted is an understatement. He had 50 per cent more break point opportunities than Reid and even won more points – 87 to 83. He looked like the man to beat at the start of the week. If nothing else this was further proof that anyone can beat anyone in the top eight. Now Reid has to repeat the feat against Kunieda, the double Paralympic singles gold medallist, a player whom he finally found a way to beat last year after eight consecutive losses to the Japanese.

The truism about equality in the top eight was hard to get one’s head around when it came to Houdet-Hewett encounters. One might be tempted to say that the 19-year-old Hewett ultimately made the 28-year age difference count if it wasn’t for the fact that he was blowing just as hard as Houdet at the finish. The Frenchman was as much at a loss as Fernandez to explain how it happened; he had more than twice as many break points as Hewett.

Hewett had to dig deep at a time when he was not at his best. It was a gutsy effort and also deeply satisfying. It probably explained why he sobbed his heart out at the finish. When he looked up the first person he saw was Houdet, who, typically, had raced to the opposite end of the court to congratulate him.

“I’ve said it all week, I don’t think I’m playing my ‘A’ game,” said Hewett, sounding emotionally drained, “and at times like this you can’t be pretty. To find a way like that and save two match points in the tiebreak - I can’t quite find the words.

“I don’t think the win itself was why I was so emotional. It was more about the effort. I said before this match it was all or nothing, I was going to have to be dragged off before I lost.”