Alfie Hewett produced a polished performance on Friday’s first of four days of wheelchair tennis at the 2021 French Open, opening his men’s singles title defence with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over 2020 runner-up Joachim Gerard at Roland Garros.
There are no easy draws in a Grand Slam, so you have to expect to play anyone, any time, any place Alfie Hewett
World No.3 Hewett has shared honours with Gerard in the last two Grand Slam finals, the Belgian having won their title decider at February’s Australian Open. But just over seven months since they fought out a three-set final on the Parisian clay, Hewett was intent on making shorter work of their latest encounter and sped through the opening set in 25 minutes.
Gerard provided sterner opposition in the second set, but Hewett kept his composure to move on to a semi-final against Argentina’s Gustavo Fernandez. Pleased with his performance, the British No.1 said:
“There are no easy draws in a Grand Slam, so you have to expect to play anyone, any time, any place. I played really aggressive tennis, which is something I’m known for. I want to go out there and put my style on the court and not get dictated to. I want to be the guy that’s causing the issues on the court for someone else and I felt like I was really getting in the first strike today, whether it was return, third ball or even defence.”
A trademark backhand winner gave Hewett a two-game cushion at 5-3 in the second set. Although Gerard then took a lengthy mechanical time out for a tyre change, it did little to upset Hewett’s focus and he took his opportunities on his next service game.
“I thought my all-round game, apart from a few sloppy service games was up there. I’ve had nine weeks of training, so I would be a little disappointed if it wasn’t,” added Hewett as he also looked forward to his last four contest against Fernandez, the player he beat in the 2017 Roland Garros final. “Gustavo is on form at the moment and it’s always a good contest when we play each other, so I’m excited for it.”
Fellow Brit Gordon Reid was unable to join Hewett in the last four after bowing out to Japan’s world No.1 Shingo Kunieda 7-6(3), 6-2, despite having led the opening set 5-3. Reid, who now partners Hewett in the men’s doubles semi-finals on Saturday, said:
“Shingo’s the best player in the world at the moment and at times I thought he played some great tennis today, but I also think there are times when I nullified his strength. For me, when I was 5-3 up in the first set, then maybe in the tie-break and at moments the second set I went too passive, my positioning was a little bit too deep in the court, which allowed him to control the match.”
Elsewhere, it was a disappointing day for Jordanne Whiley after the world No.4 lost out to her doubles partner and world No.2 Yui Kamiji of Japan 6-2, 6-1.
Having taken Kamiji to three sets for the first time since 2015 when they met last week in Le Touquet, where the Brits had their final preparation for Roland Garros, Whiley was unable replicate that performance. She will now look ahead to partnering Kamiji for Sunday’s women’s doubles semi-finals, when they begin their quest for a 12th Grand Slam title together.
Reflecting on her performance and the doubles challenge to come, Whiley said:
“I just didn’t feel good on court today. Everything was going wrong, I just didn’t have any rhythm and any flow. I served pretty well, but it was patchy. There were some good shots in there and some good tennis, but just not enough.
“It’s all focused on the doubles now. I always love playing with Yui and we had a good competitive week to lift the title in Le Touquet last week.”
While Whiley and Kamiji begin their bid for a 12th Grand Slam doubles title together on Sunday, Hewett and Reid open their quest for an 11th Grand Slam title together on Saturday. The Brits start their French Open title defence against Fernandez and Kunieda.
Saturday’s second day of play in Paris will also see Britain’s world No.2 Andy Lapthorne begin his French Open challenge with a quad singles semi-final against reigning US Open champion Sam Schroder of the Netherlands.