Trailblazer Alcott chasing seventh straight AO title

  • Matt Trollope

Dylan Alcott is one of those rare crossover athletes who is as well known for his off-court actions as for his achievements between the lines.  

Already, the Australian is a prominent para-athlete who has cut through into the mainstream, used his platform to help grow the game of wheelchair tennis, and called out discrimination.

And sometimes, this can obscure the incredible CV he has compiled when competing at the game’s biggest events.

Alcott will arrive at Australian Open 2021 as the world No.1 aiming to win a seventh consecutive singles crown – something no wheelchair player, from any division, has ever achieved at Grand Slam level.

The immortal Esther Vergeer managed six straight Roland Garros titles from 2007 to 2012, and six consecutive US Opens (2005-2011, with 2008 not held), while men’s legend Shingo Kunieda, who last year won a 24th Grand Slam singles crown, captured five straight AO titles from 2007 to 2011.

Making Alcott’s task all the more challenging is the expansion of the quad division field from four entrants to eight; among the field are two players who have stopped Alcott in Grand Slam finals. 

READ MORE: Quad wheelchair draw increased in Grand Slam first

This expansion marks the latest progress for the wheelchair game, and Alcott has, in some capacity, been linked with each step forward.

Having campaigned behind the scenes to encourage Wimbledon to introduce a quad tournament to its program of events, Alcott in June called out the US Open for not including wheelchair tennis in the initial iteration of the 2020 event at Flushing Meadows. 

As the negative response to this news increased – helped by several players sharing Alcott’s tweet and the story appearing in the mainstream media – the USTA ultimately reversed its decision and incorporated the men’s, women’s and quads wheelchair divisions into the 2020 tournament.

In the event, Alcott was upstaged by a player who earned the chance to compete because of him.

Young Dutch wildcard Sam Schroder, in his very first Grand Slam event, stunned the Australian in a three-set final after having lost to Alcott in the round-robin stage.

“Playing Dylan was also special. He’s the world No.1 and one of the most famous wheelchair athletes out there right now,” Schroder said in an interview with ITF World.

“To beat him (in the final) was unbelievable, something I totally didn’t expect, especially after the first match.”

Progress in Paris

Alcott avenged that defeat at Roland Garros, beating the 21-year-old in the semifinals before defeating Andy Lapthorne in the final for his 11th major singles trophy. 

That Roland Garros final, played on Court Suzanne Lenglen, marked another step forward – it was the first time the wheelchair finals were staged on a major showcourt in Paris.

“It was special. It really was. You know how much that stuff means to me,” Alcott said.

“It’s awesome, it’s life-changing, obviously for me but hopefully for a lot of young people with disabilities who see people like them, and for other federations to realise that other people want to watch wheelchair tennis.

“I’ve been playing on Rod Laver Arena now for a few years, and to have 10,000 people there (in 2020) for the final, and a million people watching on (Channel 9’s) Wide World of Sports, that stuff just doesn’t happen other places around the world. Or it didn’t, until now – how cool‘s that? That other Grand Slams have started to follow the lead.”

Alcott will hope to return to Rod Laver Arena at AO 2021, having won every quad singles title at Melbourne Park dating back to 2015.

He has third-ranked Schroder to contend with – “He’s gonna be kicking my backside pretty soon, to be honest,” Alcott admitted – and world No.2 Lapthorne, who stopped Alcott in the 2019 US Open final.

But with another opportunity to increase the visibility of the wheelchair game, as well as a shot at history, Alcott’s motivation and focus will be heightened.

“I still get goose-bumps thinking about it that six years ago, I used to play the Australian Open and there were eight people there. And half of them were my family. And now, you’re trending online,” he said. 

“I still can’t believe it.”