How Dylan Alcott made para-sport mainstream after fifth straight Australian Open title
By Gemma-Louise Stevenson
Last Updated: 26/01/19 3:51pm
Imagine arriving at a Grand Slam and the most famous tennis talent there plays wheelchair tennis.
That is exactly what it is like at the Australian Open, which could equally be known for being the 'inclusive Slam' as much as it is the 'happy' one
And it is thanks in part to a passionate player and advocate who has worked a mile a minute on and off court to normalise not just para-sport but also disability in his home country.
Dylan Alcott ended the 2019 Australian Open with his fifth straight singles title, but he also showed the world that para-sport and para-athletes can be mainstream and attract just as much support and attention as the players in the main draws.
"I've dreamed of this since I was a kid, because you know I didn't see people who looked like me on TV when I grew up and I wanted to change that, so to see it realised is awesome," Alcott told Sky Sports.
"As I said in my speech I'm the lucky one who has it at the moment. The next generation of young athletes, other sports, they deserve the same thing because they train just as hard as the likes of Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, whoever it is.
"Hopefully it flows on for years to come and this becomes the norm because I want to see this happen everywhere in the world now, you know what I mean.
"I want Gordon Reid to be going down the street in the UK and everybody to want a photo with him. I want the same to happen with David Wagner in the USA and I want Yui Kamiji and Diede De Groot to not be able to walk down the street without being recognised like what happens to me here, because they deserve that because they're elite."
Putting in the hard work
Getting to this point has not just happened overnight for the quad division's world No1, who also hosts the Australian equivalent of Radio 1's Breakfast Show in the UK when he is not competing on tour.
It has taken nearly two years of knocking on doors, putting himself out there, and he confessed, "being a bit of an annoying person".
On the way his hard work has seen him meet people and do things many could only dream about, including convincing Hollywood stars like Will Smith to play wheelchair tennis, enjoying sushi with Rod Laver and even meeting the Duchess of Sussex.
"I met her for the second time at the 2018 Invictus Games and I re-introduced myself because I'd met her at Wimbledon a few months before," he said.
"She was like 'Oh Dylan I remember you from Wimbledon'. Turn it up how good is that? So tell her that I'll be back in six months."
"It's got a huge following"
For para-sport one of the major challenges is getting the media, in the UK and across the world, to cover it regularly, as currently there exists a sort of chicken-and-egg situation.
Sports broadcasters want the sports to grow their following before they commit to showing them on TV, but then without the TV coverage that growth does not happen quickly.
But Alcott, who has seen the crowds for his matches grow from just one or two people on the outside courts to thousands watching him in finals on Rod Laver Arena over the past few years, does not buy the excuse that para-sports do not have enough of a following.
"It's got a huge following," he said. "And I tell you why people want to watch it - 'cause it's awesome and it's elite.
"People do say to me sometimes 'oh why would I want to watch that?' and I just say to them because we're in wheelchairs and Joachim Gerard serves the ball at 170Ks an hour, that's how fast people are serving on their feet, why would you not want to watch that?"
"It's the same thing it's just we do it sitting down"
It is not just on the court either where Alcott has been breaking down barriers.
As part of the commentary team for host broadcaster Channel 9's Wide World of Sport he has shown just what is possible for young disabled people who have dreams of entering the sports media industry, providing insight not just into the wheelchair draw but the main draws too.
"You know what the best part about it is it's that the other players say to me, able-bodied players that is, 'oh man your commentary was awesome like you said the right thing at the right time'," he said.
"But that's because it's the same thing it's just we do it sitting down, and we're much better looking.
"It's meant the world to me to be able to be courtside interviewing the likes of Rafa Nadal, and it's exactly right it should be happening."
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