Two gold medals remain on the line for ParalympicsGB
When it comes to setting an example in these uncertain times then tennis certainly has work to do.
From Novak Djokovic’s spell as superspreader-event host to vaccine rates on the WTA and ATP Tour that currently stubbornly stand at less than 50 percent, player after player, from Stefanos Tsitsipas to Aryna Sabalenka, doing their best not to lead by example.
Just imagine the moaning if they were trying to win gold in Tokyo from isolation?
And yet that’s just the challenge facing Great Britain’s Gordon Reid, a burden he is taking on without complaint and winning match after match in the process. As preparations go for a double gold medal bid it couldn’t be further removed from the high-performance world of marginal gains.
Defending champion Reid is through to the quarter-finals of the men’s wheelchair tennis singles while he and partner Alfie Hewett reached the final of the men’s doubles with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Japan’s Shingo Kunieda and Takashi Sanada.
Last week the team confirmed a member of the wheelchair tennis support staff had tested positive for Covid and was isolating at a government-approved facility in Tokyo.
Reid was not identified as a close contact but the British team applied an extra layer of rules, insisting he didn’t leave his room outside training and competing.
“We were in a car park outside the village for five hours not knowing if we were going to be let in and I’ve been in isolation since last Monday,” he said.
“To be honest, I FaceTimed my mum at 1am in the car park thinking that was it, it was pretty stressful.
“Since then we’ve lost count of the number of negative tests. They had to find a balancing act between helping us be able to prepare and compete but also keeping everyone safe and making sure nothing spread anywhere.
“I understand we’ve got a massive team of athletes in loads of sports and it’s not worth taking any risk. I’m just happy to be playing.”
Reid and Hewett will be looking to complete a Golden Slam of men’s doubles victories in the days ahead after winning at the Australia Open, French Open and Wimbledon. They’ll head for Flushing Meadows from Tokyo but are determined to upgrade their silver medal from Rio, with France’s Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer their opponents in a repeat of the 2016 final.
“I think it’s just adding desire, adding excitement, because we enjoyed Rio, we loved getting to the final there, but losing that one hurt so we don’t want to experience that again,” added Reid.
“I feel like we’ve improved so much since then and worked so much on our partnership that we’ve done everything we can to give ourselves a good chance.”
It’s a stressful Games for Hewett too, who knows this could be his last Paralympics, despite being in the form of his life.
He has been playing on borrowed time for nearly two years since the International Tennis Federation changed the rules on classification and ruled his disability – he was diagnosed as a child with Perthes disease, which affects the hip and pelvis – was not severe enough.
“I’ve gone through stages, whether it was angry, frustrated, unsure – there’s a lot of uncertainty going on in my life,” said Hewett.
“The decisions may or may not get overturned and that’s really out of my power, trying to focus on what I can do, is the only thing I can do.”
Meanwhile, Jordanne Whiley struggled to hold her emotions after breaking new ground at the Paralympics.
Whiley was just 16 when she made her Games debut in Beijing, 14 years after her father Keith won bronze at the 1984 Games in New York.
Now back for a fourth time, she reached the women’s singles last four for the first time with a rollercoaster 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 victory over American Dana Mathewson, meaning a semi-final date with top seed Diede de Groot now awaits.
Whiley, who also reached the semi-final of the women’s doubles with partner Lucy Shuker, admits the furnace-like temperatures in Tokyo took their toll in a match that lasted over two and a half hours in the heat of the blazing midday sun.
“We were doing heat chamber work back home, you would sit in there for an hour and work out but nothing compares to this,” she said.
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