Brutal power showed Alfie Hewett is ready for Wimbledon as he teaches our reporter David Freezer a lesson
- Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017
As he prepares for another shot at grand slam glory, Alfie Hewett was 'brave' enough to take on the challenge posed by DAVID FREEZER – and showed exactly why he's a star of the wheelchair tennis world.
Just how hard is it to play against Norfolk's wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett? The bruise that remained on my forearm for a few days provided my answer.
Firstly, I should admit I'm not very good at tennis and hadn't played this year before our 'exhibition' encounter.
My sport of choice to throw money at while getting increasingly frustrated recently has been golf. There is a similarity though. I know where I want the ball to go in both sports, it's just making that happen consistently that gets the blood pumping.
Regardless, I decided to give it a go and Alfie gave me a good warm up at the net and the baseline, as he loosened up for his real training sessions before heading down to London to step up his Wimbledon preparations.
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Then the real action started, a best-of-three games battle which would soon leave me sweating like Theresa May approaching a field of wheat and remembering that tennis is harder than it looks.
Of course the big difference was that my opponent was in a wheelchair. Wimbledon doubles and French Open singles champion of course but playing with the added physical challenge of manoeuvring the chair.
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This was essentially why I was interested to take on the world number six, to remind people just how good the wheelchair players are.
You may well have read plenty about his exploits around the globe in recent years, as the 19-year-old from Cantley has become something of a celebrity.
Partnering fellow British player Gordon Reid to the doubles title at Wimbledon last summer electrified the nation, as Hewett put in a hugely determined effort in a dramatic final.
They had battled hard but lost the first set 6-4 to their arch rivals, Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer of France, in front of a big crowd and millions watching live on television.
They roared back to take the second set 6-1 and at 5-2 in the third were on the verge of glory, only for the French to roar back and win four games in a row to lead 6-5.
The Brits battled back to eventually, with the help of some thumping shots from Norfolk's finest, take the tie-break 8-6 and spark wild celebrations – prompting social media congratulations from sports star and celebrities, as well as then prime minister David Cameron, and a string of TV appearances.
I've been fortunate to go down and see Hewett in action at the All England Club in both of his two campaigns in SW19 and once you see the wheelchair players in action you can't help but be tremendously impressed.
The movement, speed and bravery that the top players display not only adds drama for spectators but earns more respect for the physical demands that are overcome with each shot.
That bruise on my left forearm that stuck around for a few days after facing Hewett is testament to the power the former City College Norwich student can generate – as my racquet swished at thin air, unable to react quickly enough to a full-power serve.
Every dog has his day though and, somehow, I pulled a backhand winner out of the bag at the end of our very first point – leaving us both shocked and ensuring that Alfie would not be taking it easy on me as we played on the indoor courts at David Lloyd Norwich. It may come up at dinner parties in the future...
Taking the first game comfortably with the help of a wayward shot from me which nearly took out Hewett's watching granddad, David Hooper, teed up the embarrassing sight of me trying to serve in game two.
One of the serves to actually stay in saw Alfie find the net and sparked him into life, thumping a backhand straight at me from the next serve, before a couple of tasty drop-shots left me scampering around the court desperately trying to keep up.
The former Acle High School pupil had found his range and started to pick me off – surviving another ambitious backhand attempt before finishing me off with some bullet-like serves.
Scientific it wasn't, more just a bit of fun, but it demonstrated the standard Hewett is operating at. It also gave me a taste for the challenge of the game again and I'm intending to try and get back out on court soon.
Watching as the two-time Paralympic silver medallist really got up to speed with hitting partner Josh Weeds was a further reminder of the levels he is striving for.
Alfie's singles campaign is scheduled to start on Thursday, tune in if you can, you won't be disappointed.
• We'll bring you Hewett's hopes ahead of Wimbledon next week and updates in print and online throughout his singles and doubles campaigns
• Watch video of Hewett and Freezer's match above, as well as the grand slam star's pre-Wimbledon interview which was screened on Mustard TV earlier this week.