Alfie Hewett has achieved most things in wheelchair tennis but the Wimbledon singles title continues to elude him. The Briton, who produced a miraculous comeback in the semi-final, let slip a 5-2 lead in the deciding set on Sunday as he was beaten 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-5) by Shingo Kunieda.
For the 38-year-old Kunieda, it was a victory that means he has now completed the career grand slam of all four majors. A legend of the sport, he has now won 28 grand slam singles titles in all. “It was one of the most tough matches in my career,” he said. “Mentally is my biggest weapon. If I find myself behind or in a tough situation, I never give up. I say to myself: I can do it. I know what to do. That’s [the] only way.”
Until this year, grass had always been Kunieda’s toughest surface, with his runner-up finish in 2019 the closest he had come to winning the title. It took a word of advice from eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, he said, to give him the keys. “My question was how to play on grass and how to think when behind on grass,” he said. “He said, you should attack every point. If you [make] mistakes, no regret. That’s the key, he said. I tried to think if I [made a] mistake: oh, this is OK. Then I go into the next point with aggression. This was the way to play on grass.”
For Hewett, this defeat is going to hurt. After failing to serve out the second set, he led 5-2 in the third and had two more chances to close it out, only for Kunieda to level at 5-5. He broke again to lead 6-5 but a fourth opportunity to win it went begging and in the ensuing tie-break, he was outplayed by the Japanese great.
“It’s a tough defeat to take,” he said. “I had chances in the second and third set to serve it out. Pretty disappointed not to step up to the occasion. But I think a lot of credit goes to Shingo who put up a massive, massive effort to come back and not give up.”