For a man blessed with so many remarkable talents, a critical element in Dylan Alcott’s historic triumph in New York on Sunday – when he became the first man to win the “golden slam” – proved relatively simple to deploy.
The 30-year-old was the commander on court once again during his 7-5, 6-2 victory over Dutchman Niels Vink in the US Open quad men’s singles final at Flushing Meadows, as he completed his set of the four traditional grand slam tournaments and also an Olympic gold medal in a calendar year.
As a trailblazing talent, Alcott’s legacy in tennis and as a champion for wheelchair-bound athletes was assured long ago. But the enormity of a task completed with distinction in Queens had weighed on the 15-time grand slam winner.
Two years ago, when in a position to complete the grand slam in New York, he was upset in the final and acknowledged later the pressure derailed him. It is something Novak Djokovic, who was beaten by Daniil Medvedev when bidding to complete the grand slam, pointed to when stressing just how difficult he found the test.
The key to success over the past week, Alcott said, was perspective. He needed to find peace in a confronting situation brought on by his supreme excellence on the court. The answer came from mindset coach Ben Crowe, who he shares with women’s world No 1 Ash Barty. He was reminded to enjoy the moment.
“If you are trying to fake energy because you are tired, you get angry at yourself because you are not feeling energetic. I was like that this week,” he said. “[But] I had fun today. I really enjoyed it. I’ll never get the opportunity to win a golden slam again. I was like, ‘Let’s go out there, enjoy yourself, do it for my team, for our country.”
Hours after his crowning achievement, Alcott stole the hearts of fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium during Medvedev’s triumph over Djokovic with the celebration of a larrikin.
New York crowds are raucous. They love the theatre of the sport. Seated amid an A-list crowd featuring movie stars and tennis greats including Rod Laver, Alcott smashed another ace. He poured a beer into his champion’s trophy and skulled it with the aplomb of Bob Hawke to the delight of the crowd, with footage of his celebration soon viral across social media.
“There was no chance I wasn’t going to skull that beer on Arthur Ashe after I just won the golden slam,” he said.
The Melburnian, who was born with a tumour wrapped around his spinal cord, possesses the happy knack of being able to command attention whenever he enters a room. Admittedly Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest tennis court in the world in terms of crowd capacity, is a far bigger stage than he usually faces as a motivational speaker.
But this ability, and the passion with which he approaches his role as a mentor for younger athletes, has been vital in helping him spread the word about a sport that is growing. His speeches after winning Wimbledon in 2019, and again in July, dripped diamonds. Alcott’s forehands pack a punch, but his ability to deliver a humorous punchline engages crowds.
As valuable as his showmanship has been in fostering a broader profile, it should not overshadow the traits that have made him a champion. He is a particularly driven athlete who has worked exceptionally hard to succeed. Similarly to Djokovic and Barty, it is the work away from the grand slam stages that enabled him to deliver with such panache from Melbourne Park to Flushing Meadows this year.
A member of the Australian Rollers gold medal-winning wheelchair basketball team at the Beijing Olympics as a teenager before turning to tennis, he is the ultimate professional. Alcott is a brilliant shotmaker. His technique is superb and one younger athletes such as Vink aspire to match. But talent alone does not win tournaments.
Alcott has had to improve year-on-year to retain his ascendancy. His serve is stronger. He has outstanding touch at the net. His speed on wheels is blinding. This is the result of hours of work calibrating the style that has made him a champion.
Importantly, Alcott believes the most important part of his career is still to come. And it is not necessarily to do with his pursuit of an eighth straight Australian Open crown next January.
“I just want to leave the sport in a better spot for the next generation of young tennis players to come, wheelchair tennis players and tennis players in general,” he said. “I hope I played a very small part in that. I’m proud to be disabled. I’m proud to play wheelchair tennis. I’m proud I’ve won the golden slam in wheelchair tennis.
“I want to be me. I’m proud of me. I’m proud of the journey that we’ve had.”