Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid have almost won it all in wheelchair tennis but may never get the one they really want – Paralympic gold.
The pair hold all four Grand Slam titles and, like singles stars Dylan Alcott and Diede de Groot, were poised to complete a Golden Slam of all major honours in Tokyo.
The only thing that could stop them was a three-hour and 25-minute instant classic and their idiosyncratic nemeses, French second seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer.
Reid and Hewett played the better tennis but met an immovable object in the duo, with a combined age of 80, who had a full-blown on-court argument in the second set.
Just like at Rio 2016, Houdet and Peifer won the first set and then recovered from losing the second to take the gold medal and deny the Brits again.
“There was a lot at stake, it’s pretty much the only title we haven’t won together and we both wanted it so badly,” said Reid.
“We don’t lose very often and you don’t come here with that on your mind, so it’s difficult to prepare for. But, yeah, we cried part of it out on the court.”
Hewett added: “Right now, we’re so devastated and emotional. It will be a tough one take.”
The first set was a marathon and a sprint. The sheer length of rallies seemed to favour the younger pair but the French took the opening rubber 7-5 in 83 minutes.
Hewett and Reid came out firing and bagelled Houdet and Peifer in the second thanks to a combination of the Scot’s deft net play and Hewett’s devastating passing shots.
The third went the distance and a couple of crucial chances for winners at the net went begging, with Reid missing a smash at 5-4 that would have put them 30-0 up.
“We were unstoppable for nine games, but to do that for a long period of time takes a lot of energy [and] takes a lot of intensity, a lot of focus,” said Reid.
“At that point it didn’t really matter – there are no answers to the type of tennis we played, I think it was just too much for us to maintain.
“The only regret is that we didn’t do it from the start.”
Reid and Hewett now have to pick themselves up for a surreal, perhaps even cruel, men’s singles bronze medal match that pits them against each other.
The hope is it could be a cathartic occasion and a celebration of both given the threat that looms that this will be Hewett’s last Paralympic Games.
The East Anglian risks being shut out of his sport after a change in classification rules meant that his Perthes disease may be ruled as not severe enough to qualify him to play.
Hewett was on the verge of tears throughout post-match interviews and, although he will defend his US Open title with Reid from next week, he looked like a man confronting the worst.
“It’s in my mind right now but it hasn’t been,” said Hewett.
“I’ve always tried to put it to the back of my mind and just focus on the tennis. The thought of it right now gets me upset so I’m trying not to talk about it to be honest.
“We’ve put in seven or eight years of work together and we’ve had a lot of highs and some lows as well, but it’s been an absolute pleasure to be on the court with Gordon.
“He’s mentored me ever since I was a young kid and still mentors me now, so I couldn’t have asked for a better partnership.”
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