In January, Dylan Alcott bid farewell to his professional career, but not before receiving the iconic Australian of the Year Award and reaching the final in Melbourne for one last time. Despite missing out on an eighth Australian Open singles title, he still took away plenty of positives, including a myriad of messages from the world’s best players and a legacy he couldn’t be prouder to leave…
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My last run at the Australian Open was incredible. It was a beautiful celebration and all the messages from all around the world were pretty unreal. Heading into that final match I had both excitement and nerves. It had been a massive week - I’d won Australian of the Year, so I was flying around Australia and doing lots of stuff for that. I think that took its toll on me when I went out on the court, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because it was such a huge opportunity and a very humbling award to win, especially for the work I’ve done for the disability community. Obviously, I would have loved to win that final but I’m okay that I didn’t.
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That instant moment after match point I remember thinking I was stuffed - I felt like an old man out there and very ready to retire! My opponent, Sam (Schroder), played so well and I definitely deserved to lose. With him and a load of the other players, I think the future is definitely bright for wheelchair tennis.
I had heaps of messages afterwards - so many DMs and posts from tennis players like Vika Azarenka, Jannik Sinner, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Nick Kyrgios, Ash Barty and Thanasi Kokkinakis. I’m massively appreciative of their support in helping to normalise disability sport and put it in the mainstream. It was such a special end to a very special career and I’m very thankful for what we’ve achieved together because it’s not just down to me, it’s down to everybody who has gotten involved.
I received a beautiful message from Andy Murray during my final press conference. He watched my match with his daughters and said they were asking all these questions about disability because they could see us in wheelchairs. He said it was one of the first times he’s talked about disability with his kids and that he got emotional writing it to me, saying, ‘Thank you so much’.
I honestly read it and started crying in the presser because that’s what it’s all about for me and what a legend he is! I’m forever grateful for us being mates. The fact that so many of the top, top tennis players actually care about wheelchair tennis is huge and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for everybody. I’ve always felt very included and worthy at Grand Slams - especially at the Australian Open. They’ve come a long way in terms of putting disability tennis on the map and it's pretty cool to have been involved in that.
For me, that’s way bigger than the trophies. It’s epic knowing that kids and young people with disabilities are watching someone on TV like them for the first time. That’s the reason I get up and out of bed - not to win Gold medals and Grand Slams, so that’s why losing that match against Sam was OK. It would have been very nice to win, but I will survive because the legacy I’m leaving is the greater purpose.
‘It is about changing perceptions’ – Alcott after final match
At the end of the day, what’s the difference between seven and eight Australian Open titles? I’m still looking back on my career and I couldn’t be prouder of what’s been achieved. Being able to play on Rod Laver Arena every year and look up on the middle row where all the disability seats are is such a standout memory for me. Just seeing it full of people with both physical and non-physical disabilities - it makes me want to tear up just thinking about it. That's why in my last speech I thanked all those people for coming because they’re the reason for me. They’ve changed my life and to think I’ve had even a small impact on their lives, it’s pretty awesome and it’s better than any trophies.
What we’ve done together to have greater representation of people with disability everywhere; on our screens, on our sporting fields… and not just in Australia but all around the world, is just amazing. My matches were live on Eurosport and I love that! It’s so cool and I’m proud of what we did and it’s not me, it’s we. I just do the tennis part and I’m lucky that I can string two words together and tell a good story, but those broadcasting it, those watching it, we’ve done that together and I’ll always be thankful for that. I just want to keep seeing it go from strength to strength - even now that I’m a washed-out retired loser (which I’m very happy with!).
If I was to give any advice to my younger self or other kids in my position, it would be just be proud and happy of who you are, just get out there and have a crack! I used to hate myself and my disability so much, mostly because I was different. At the end of the day, we’re all different and we shy away from our differences because we want to be like everybody else, but as soon as I embraced my difference, which in my case was my disability, my life changed forever and everybody around me became more comfortable with that too.
So my message for any non-disabled person when being inclusive with someone with a disability is just be as normal as possible. If you take away the fact that I’m in a wheelchair then who am I? I’m just a normal person. There is no such thing as a bad or a dumb question, as long as you create a rapport with that person and deliver it in the right way. Actually, the worst thing you can do is not ask questions and exclude a disabled person accidentally - whether that’s in your employment, in education, in sport, in your personal life like dating, whatever it is. The best way to learn is through someone’s lived experience so don’t be afraid to say ‘G’day!’ and get involved. Integrate someone with a disability in whatever you do because that’s the only way we can do it and keep pushing forward.
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