MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A day after beginning his reign as ‘Australian of the Year’, quad wheelchair champion Dylan Alcott was denied a fairytale finish to his decorated career on Rod Laver Arena.
The Melburnian, who was seeking an eighth Australian Open title, fought valiantly against Dutchman Sam Schroder but was ultimately overwhelmed 7-5 6-0.
Although defeated in his final match, the 15-time major winner received the applause of a hero as he bid farewell to tennis with an emotional speech.
“I am really the luckiest guy in the world. I didn’t need to win today to realise that,” he said.
“It is because of everybody watching today that people like me, people with a disability, are integrated and involved in our society. That is the reason I get out of bed.”
When announcing this would be his final Australian Open, the 31-year-old said it was due, in part, to his recognition that Schroder and Niels Vink were rapidly closing the gap .
So it proved in the final.
The first set was particularly hard-fought, with Alcott serving for it at 5-4. But from then on the Dutchman proved unstoppable when claiming a second Grand Slam title.
Host broadcaster Channel 9 delayed its prime-time news bulletin to show the final in its entirety and Alcott’s influence was clear to see all around Melbourne Park’s main showcourt.
The size of the crowd, which followed a doubles encounter involving Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, would be the envy of many tournaments. There were also several wheelchair-bound children watching the final around the stadium.
Schroder said Alcott had been an inspiration.
“You have inspired so many people to get out there to play sports,” he added. “I know you have done a great job inspiring the world.”
(Reporting by Courtney Walsh; Editing by Peter Rutherford)