World number one Stephane Houdet dispatched defending champion Joachim Gerard in the men’s singles semi-finals to give himself a stab at a third Gauteng Open title, but the Frenchman’s feat was overshadowed by the adventures of unheralded Alfie Hewett at the Gauteng East Tennis Complex on Saturday.
World number one Quads player Dylan Alcott broke out with a series of ‘whoop-whoops’ as the 18-year-old from Norfolk rolled into the clubhouse to rowdy applause. And not without reason.
Hewett’s rivals were in awestruck by Hewett’s journey to his first Level 1 International Tennis Federation (ITF) final.
On Tuesday, he started his campaign with a straight set 6-0 6-0 result against world number three junior Alwande Skhosana from South Africa.
On Wednesday, he thumped world number seven Stefan Olsson from Sweden in straight sets 6-4 6-2.
On Thursday, Hewett sent number 13 Frederic Cattaneo packing with another straight set victory 6-4 6-4 in the quarter-finals.
And on Saturday, he took out world number three and second seed Nicolas Peifer 7-5 7-6(2) to reach the final.
Before he arrived in South Africa for his debut in the two UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour events, sponsored by the Airports Company South Africa, Hewett barely caused a ripple on the South African wheelchair tennis radar. But not anymore.
Bagging victories against the number two, number four and number eight seeds earns you instant respect and even the admiration of his title rival on Sunday.
“Everyone loves an underdog and I think the South Africans are going to cheer for Alfie,” said Houdet, who beat Gerard 7-6(3) 6-4.
The former world number one junior and multiple World Junior Masters Champion (Singles and Doubles) said a new attitude, a strong support team and some success at the start of the season has changed the course of his career.
“I’m a little surprised by myself about my victories this week, but I prepared really well for the trip to South Africa,” Hewett said.
“I was always talented, but a little too lazy and, after a really disappointing season last year, I decided it was time to step it up. I did six weeks of rigorous training at the end of the season and my coach and I spent two weeks just preparing for the altitude here in South Africa.
“I felt really comfortable from the get-go and I think that gave me some added confidence. During the second set against Peifer I was 5-3 up but he came back to square the match. I struggled with fatigue and lost a little focus, but I dug deep and was able to rally for the win.”
Hewett is relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head with Houdet on Sunday.
“Since I started playing tennis, I’ve always been fearless, sometimes to my own detriment. I dialled it back a little, but not too much. I am not scared of the top seeds, in fact, I love taking them on. I’ll just try to stay within myself against Stephane and play the match game for game.”
MENS SEMI-FINAL RESULTS:
RSA unless stated:
1-Stephane Houdet (FRA) bt 3-Joachim Gerard (BEL) 7-6(3) 6-4
Alfie Hewett (GBR) bt 2-Nicolas Peifer (FRA) 7-5 7-6(2)
1-Stephane Houdet (FRA)/ Stefan Olsson (SWE) bt 3-Alfie Hewett (GBR)/ Takashi Sanada (JPN) 6-2 6-4
2-Frederic Cattaneo/ Nicolas Paifer (FRA) bt 4-Joachim Gerard (BEL)/ Evans Maripa 6-1 6-3