Friendly fire: Alcott motors past Davidson

  • Michael Beattie

Quad wheelchair world No.1 Dylan Alcott’s Australian Open 2019 campaign is up and running with a win after recovering from a shaky start to beat fellow Aussie Heath Davidson 6-3 6-2.

Alcott, a four-time Australian Open singles champion, found himself down 3-1 on a packed Court 8 before claiming 11 of the next 13 games to extend his unbeaten run against his close mate to seven matches.

“It’s always so hard playing Heath,” Alcott admitted. “We’re best mates – not just in tennis, proper best mates. When you’re tennis friends it’s alright [to play each other], but we hang out when it’s not tennis.

“It’s a bummer, but it’s a round robin, so if he beats the other two and I keep winning, we can meet in the final.”

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the 28-year-old at Melbourne Park, who has served as a commentator and on-court MC ahead of Wednesday’s first day of competition. But being busy is the way the Melbourne native likes it, especially when he sees his hard work pay off with bustling crowds flocking to the wheelchair events.

“It’s been an incredible couple of weeks,” Alcott said. “But you know what? Seeing all those people, all those kids there with disabilities coming to watch today, how amazing is that? They came early, they’ll be here the whole day.

“You couldn’t give tickets away five years ago, and now people are paying premium to watch. It’s so cool.”

59 Dylan Alcott
41 Heath Davidson

On court, Alcott was too hot for Davidson once he found his groove, the duo producing some sparkling tennis in the second set. 

At 3-1 up in the second, the top seed came out on top of a 15-shot rally that pushed him to every corner of the court before sending a lob over Davidson, who threw his racquet into the air in frustration. On the next point, Alcott made sure there would be no repeat with a deft serve-volley combo as he stamped home his authority, wrapping up victory in 65 minutes.

Heath Davidson

“I feel awesome,” added Alcott, who also debuted his bespoke Nike trainers, complete with personalised logo. “A player-exclusive shoe for a wheelchair athlete, it’s got to be the first time that’s ever been done.

“I was a bit average early, a bit irritated at the start, but from 3-1 I was playing really well. I was stoked.

“I love playing tennis now, because I really enjoy it – it’s almost a bit of a break from everything else as well, when you’re that busy. As long as I can manage myself, and my health and well-being don’t get too down, it’s all good.”

In the day’s other quad singles match, American David Wagner held off Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain for a 6-1 4-6 6-4 victory. 

In the wheelchair events, Shingo Kunieda claimed his first win in three encounters with Great Britain’s Alfie Hewett, prevailing 6-1 6-4 in a rematch of their 2018 US Open final.

Japan’s Kunieda, searching for his 10th Australian Open title this week, made just one unforced error in the first set in stark contrast to Hewett, making his first appearance on court since his New York triumph.

You couldn’t give tickets away five years ago, and now people are paying premium to watch. It’s so cool
Dylan Alcott

“The first set, and the second set up to 4-1, was perfect for me, but I know Alfie is a tough opponent,” said Kunieda, who will face Stefan Olsson in the semifinals. “After 4-1 he rushed a lot and found good power shots. They pushed me, but I set my mind to calm and felt in control.”

Women’s top seed Diede De Groot was in merciless mode as she routed Lucy Shuker 6-0 6-0 in just 38 minutes to set up a semifinal showdown with Dutch compatriot Marjolein Buis, who eased past Sabine Ellerbrook 6-1 6-4. 

But No.2 seed Yuichi Kamiji found the going tougher against Italian Grand Slam debutant Giulia Capocci, who impressed while pushing her opponent from first ball to last before going out 7-6(3) 6-3.