New Idols: Dylan Alcott
Dylan Alcott is the best wheelchair tennis player in the world. But his legacy isn't centred on winning more titles. It's changing the perceptions of young players like him.
With 14 major titles, Paralympic medals and countless tournament wins, Australian-born Dylan Alcott is a true legend of wheelchair tennis. But those accolades aren't what makes him great—Dylan believes his true purpose is to help change perceptions around disability so more young players can live the life they deserve. One of those players is junior wheelchair champion Ben Bartram. For this story, 16-year-old Ben got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview his idol Dylan on how sport has changed their lives. Here's how it went down.
To kick things off, Ben and Dylan opened up about how discovering sport as kids ultimately changed their lives.
BEN: So, what does tennis mean to you?
DYLAN: I used to get bullied about my disability by some kids at school. And I never really met anybody with a disability. So I was kind of lost. When I started playing tennis, it was the first time I met people that were like me.
BEN: Yeah, I definitely have to agree with you. The social side of it is amazing. Tennis gave me the feeling that I wasn't different. I see everyone else around me, we're all the same and it's like, oh, this is so refreshing. And it just sort of gave me confidence in every other aspect of my life.
DYLAN: Sport is powerful for that, isn't it? I'm in such a lucky position where I'm a full-time professional wheelchair tennis player. The generation before us, they had it really tough. They didn't have the same opportunities to play that you and I had, right? I don't take that for granted.
Playing for more than the match
In the span of Dylan's career, wheelchair tennis has shot into the spotlight. Here, he shares with Ben why that's right where it deserves to be. And not just for players, but for kids with a disability everywhere.
BEN: So, what is your most memorable win?
DYLAN: I think my most memorable win was when I played The Australian Open. My first one was in 2014 and there were like four people there. Two of them were my parents. Fast forward to 2018, I got to play on Rod Laver Arena which is our centre court at the Australian Open. There were over ten thousand people there. Millions of people watching on TV.
The best part was, when you go to a big centre court there's accessible seating for people with disabilities. I reckon there were five hundred kids in wheelchairs there. I'd never seen that many kids with a disability in one spot and it just hit me in the chest, you know? Because when I was growing up, the athletes with a disability never got that experience. I dreamt of that as a kid, but I never thought it would happen.
People want to watch wheelchair tennis because it's an elite sport, but it's also changing perceptions for the next generation of young athletes, like yourself. I want you to win Wimbledon on centre court with 15,000 people there. Millions of people watching on the BBC. How would that make you feel?
BEN: Yeah … [Laughs.] So do I.
DYLAN: You deserve that because you're going to be the best in the world. It's about breaking down those barriers.
BEN: It's definitely improving year by year. The standards of the top guys are just ridiculous. And it's not going to stop improving. I can't wait to see where the sport is at in the next five, ten years.
DYLAN: Because athletes can be full time now, the quality of tennis is just huge. And everyone always says to me, oh my God, I can't believe how hard you hit the ball or how fast you are. I'm like, what do you expect? But I'm getting scared because, guys like you, you're going to be kicking my ass soon.
Looking beyond the court
Towards the end of their conversation, Dylan and Ben get honest about their hopes for the future of wheelchair tennis. And what it means to be a true champion.
BEN: What are you most excited about for the future of our sport?
DYLAN: The thing I'm most excited about is the continual mainstreaming of it. I want it to be the norm that we are integrated into the elite programmes of the Grand Slams and all the tournaments around the world. I am first and foremost an elite athlete who just happens to have a disability. I want more huge opportunities for athletes with a disability because that's what we deserve.
BEN: Yeah it'd definitely be good to see more wheelchair tennis tournaments integrated with ATP and WTA. That'd be pretty awesome.
DYLAN: And I just want to see the growth of the sport. I want to see more young kids with a disability giving it a shot. That might change their life. It's not all about winning.
BEN: What do you mean by that? Winning is everything for me at the moment.
DYLAN: People think my purpose in life is winning gold medals and Grand Slams, but it's not. My true purpose in life is changing perceptions and breaking down negative stigmas so people with a disability can live the lives that they deserve to live. Tennis has given me that platform to do that. And when you think about it like that, it's bigger than winning tennis matches.
BEN: Yeah, for me, I actually love competing in tournaments.
DYLAN: Oh yeah, the competition is amazing. But I think a true champion is not who wins the most tournaments. It goes beyond that. It's about what you stand for, how you represent yourself and your community.
BEN: Seeing the impact you've had on the sport is amazing.
DYLAN: Good on you. I appreciate that, man.
"People with a disability can look as dope as they want to look"
– Dylan Alcott Current Wheelchair Tennis World No. 1
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