Alcott’s high five after wheelchair thriller

  • Dan Imhoff

A first grand slam title will always hold a sentimental place in Dylan Alcott’s heart, but it is his fifth straight Australian Open title he deems his sweetest yet.

The 28-year-old secured a 6-4 7-6(2) triumph in the quad wheelchair singles final on Saturday, defeating long-time rival and No.2 seed David Wagner – a match which the Australian described as one of the best played between the pair.

It was not the manner in which he won the match, so much, more the attention it garnered as the first wheelchair final broadcast live on national television.

Alcott served nine aces against Wagner

“That meant the most,” Alcott said. “If you put yourself out there, it puts more pressure on you. It really does. I've really been everywhere the last two weeks.

“To broadcast it live to the world, never been done in a final, that's huge for the movement of parasports, everything that I believe in.

“That was the highest quality tennis … I'm really glad that was, to be able to broadcast that. It meant a lot."

It was a far cry from the pair’s round-robin clash in which they battled through oppressive heat before Alcott prevailed 6-7 6-4 7-5 to book his place in the final.

And again, their match looked headed for a third set when Wagner, a three-time Australian Open champion, rallied from 2-5 down in the second set to serve for the set.

Alcott said to himself “big energy” in an attempt to stem the flow of games, in acknowledgement his level had dropped with the finish line in sight.

And he broke Wagner to take the match to a tie-break. From there, he never looked back.

MORE: Infosys MatchBeats: See how the match unfolded

In front of 4000 home fans on Rod Laver Arena, he brought up championship points with a whipping backhand passing shot and took the final off a shanked Wagner return error.

“Today is a really special day,” Alcott said as he wiped away tears. “I remember as a 14-year-old lying in bed and all I wanted to do was make it in the mainstream in some way.

“I wanted to show we could be normal people, get a job, have a partner … I just wanted to see people with a disability succeeding in the mainstream.”

Wagner put up a massive fight against Alcott

The crowd’s cheers lifted again as Alcott took another moment to compose himself, fighting back tears.

“Thanks to Channel 9 this match was broadcast into every single TV in Australia,” he said. “And that meant a lot to me and a lot to the 4.5 million in Australia and 1.4 billion people in the world with a disability. It’s been great for me but I want it to be greater for a lot more people.”

In a rematch of last year’s decider, it was a far smoother passage for Alcott this time round, after he was forced to leave a hospital bed the day of his final to win his fourth singles title at Melbourne Park 12 months ago.

Alcott had insisted that his doctors delay treatment for a cellulitis infection so he could play his Australian Open 2018 final before his brother returned him to hospital that afternoon.

“Today was tougher,” Alcott said, comparing the two victories. “When I got out of bed today, I was almost walking, I was that excited.

“Mate, I felt fresh as a daisy ... Last year I literally ripped the drip out of my arm Friday night to be able to play Saturday.

"Last year was more of a relief because I was so crook to win it. But way more pressure today. No one knew about it last year. The only reason you all know is because I wrote about it in my book. 

"I didn't tell anyone. Way more pressure today because of the bigger audience. I was stoked with how well I played.”

That meant a lot to me and a lot to the 4.5 million in Australia and 1.4 billion people in the world with a disability
Alcott was delighted the match was shown live on TV

For Wagner, there was disappointment at letting the second set slip, but the American paid tribute to his opponent’s determination before his home crowd.

“Congrats to Dylan today,” he said. “Another tournament and you’re just too strong for me today. Enjoy it.

“It’s always great to play down here. I’m thankful it wasn’t as hot last year, today anyway. I just really enjoy my time here, great people, a great venue. It’s top of the charts for me.”

There would be victory celebrations for Alcott and his large contingent of family and friends – “there’s a bloody lot of you” – but with the trophy ceremony and photos out of the way, there was a more pressing commitment.

“After this, in 10 minutes, I’m going to take this trophy to Garden Square and have a beer with everybody,” he said. “See you there.”