Dylan Alcott fell short of a fairytale finish and an eighth Australian Open title, losing 5-7, 0-6 to Dutchman Sam Schroder in the quad wheelchair final. The 31-year-old, however, bid farewell to tennis as a national hero with a decorated career, featuring 23 Grand Slam quad titles including 15 in singles, Paralympic gold medals and a revered golden slam.
In the Olympic year of 2021 — while the spotlight was on Novak Djokovic and his bid to first achieve the Golden Slam, and later the Grand Slam — Alcott became the first man to complete the Golden Slam in quad singles, winning all four Majors and the Paralympic gold medal. At the Tokyo Paralympics last September, he also earned a silver in doubles to add to his twin golds at Rio 2016.
Alcott found success initially with the Australia wheelchair basketball team, colloquially known as the ‘Rollers’. At 17, he was part of the Beijing gold medal-winning Australia team and won a silver in London.
With 15 titles, Alcott retires as the most successful quad singles player. As well as seven Australian Open titles, Alcott won the US Open three times (2015, 2018, 2021), Wimbledon twice (2019, 2021) and was a three-time Roland Garros champion (2019, 2020, 2021).
The retirement came after a whirlwind 48 hours for Alcott, during which he won his semifinal, flew to Canberra to attend the Australian of the Year ceremony, and flew back to Melbourne for his final match. In Canberra, he became the first person with a visible disability to be made Australian of the Year in the award’s 62-year history.
“Whenever I turned on the TV or the radio or read the newspaper, I never saw anybody like me,” Alcott said after winning the award. “Whenever I did, it was a road safety ad where someone drink-drives, has a car accident and the next scene was someone like me, in tears because their life is over. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s not my life…’”
Previous winners of the Australian of the Year include Olympic swimming champion Dawn Fraser, Formula One champion Jack Brabham, tennis champion Evonne Goolagong, and Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh.
Alcott has also been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2009, three Victorian Institute of Sport Award of Excellence awards and Officer of the Order of Australia in 2022.
On Thursday, host broadcaster Channel 9 delayed its prime-time news bulletin to not interrupt Alcott’s match on Melbourne Park’s main show court. The Australian Open also had its spectator capacity lifted to 65 per cent, from 50 at the start of the tournament, in time for Alcott’s final and fellow Aussies Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis’ doubles semifinal.
In 2017, he founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation, which provides disabled Australians mentoring, grants and scholarships. Using his platform as a presenter and broadcaster on youth-oriented music radio station Triple J, Alcott created a musical festival, called Ability Fest, accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities.
In his retirement speech, Alcott said he didn’t “want there to be a dip where wheelchair tennis goes back on the outside courts and no one cares.”
“The reason I am retiring is I think there are people who are ready to take that mantle, and keep breaking down those glass ceilings and keep pushing,” he added.
World No. 1 Australian Ashleigh Barty later revealed that the powerful speech served as an inspiration going into her semifinal on Thursday.
“He has inspired a nation. He’s inspired the whole globe,” she said. “We were watching his match today,” Barty said after her win over American Madison Keys. “I was with my physio about an hour before coming out and when he was saying his acceptance speech, we were both crying. I was like, ‘I need to get out of here and game on’. I just wanted to watch Dylan.”
During his press conference, Alcott shared a touching message from Andy Murray.
“I hope he doesn’t mind this but Andy Murray just messaged me: ‘I don’t know if I’ve articulated that well, but you’re an absolute rockstar and inspiration with everything you’ve done’,” Alcott said. “That kills me. That makes me want to cry. It’s special. You’re a part of it. They don’t even care you’re in a wheelchair. They don’t give a s***.