British wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett had to sleep on an airport floor as he suffered travel misery on his way to the US Open.
The 20-year-old from Norfolk, ranked two in the world, should be one of the favourites to lift his second grand slam singles title at Flushing Meadows but he will need to try to recover from his ordeal.
Hewett was on a high after winning the warm-up event in St Louis, beating world number one Shingo Kunieda in the final, when he headed off to the airport on Monday morning.
Changing flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was where things went wrong.
His flight with American Airlines was delayed first by problems in New York and then a thunderstorm. After both the pilots and crew reached their clocking-off times, the flight was eventually cancelled.
Hewett was transferred to a different flight with United Airlines at 8pm but that, too, was cancelled, leaving Hewett waiting in a long line for customer services while worrying about how he would get to New York.
Picking up the story, he told Press Association Sport: “In that queue I luckily found a flight that left at 6am on Tuesday. I got to the front of the queue, spoke to United, and they said I needed to go to American Airlines.
“So I went there, they said because it was weather, they wouldn’t put me up in accommodation. I asked if there was an airport hotel, they said no, there was one half an hour away. It was about midnight and I realised I had to be at the airport in four and a half hours anyway.
“I asked where my bags were, they didn’t know. They looked, they were still in the airport but they were going to JFK. I wasn’t going to JFK any more and they wouldn’t re-route them. The only option I had was to stay in the airport for another two hours to collect them – it was my rackets, chairs, everything.
“So I slept on the floor for about 45 minutes, went to get my bags, then by the time I’d done that and got to the other terminal, it was practically time to check in again.
“It was a horrible experience. When something like that happens you don’t feel like they look after you. I explained my situation but there were lots of other people who needed to be in different places for business meetings and family reasons, so I was just another one.
“I just needed to put my logical brain on and figure out how I was going to get to New York. I could argue and shout as much as I like but it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. It wasn’t worth my energy.”
Hewett finally made it to New York on Tuesday evening, meaning a hectic day of trying to get everything in order on Wednesday ahead of his opening doubles match on Thursday. He is the defending champion alongside Scot Gordon Reid.
Hewett said: “It’s really hit me today. Thankfully there are physios here that are really good at what they do. I don’t have any injuries from it but of course I’m going to feel very stiff sitting in a chair for 26 hours and then on the floor. It has messed up my lower body.
“But I spoke to my coach and it was one of those things that wasn’t in my control so I have to put my reasonable head on again, forget about it and try my best to move on.
“In the past I would have used something like this as an excuse but all I can do is try to get myself as ready as I can.”