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It wasn't quite the fairytale farewell fans had hoped for for Dylan Alcott at the Australian Open, but the wheelchair champion was nonetheless given a rousing send-off at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday night.
Alcott went down to longtime friend and rival world No.2 Sam Schroder 7-5, 6-0 in front of a packed house on Rod Laver Arena, a fact Alcott pointed to in a speech after the match as being more important than a grand slam victory ever could be.
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Having travelled to Canberra mid-week to attend the Australian of the Year awards, where he was a popular winner, Alcott had it all to do after a gruelling first set.
Schroder had his number in the second frame however, breaking Alcott's streak of four grand slam victories.
In a moving speech after the match, Alcott paid tribute to his opponent, and to the Australian Open for their work elevating the wheelchair tennis competition.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 27, 2022
“Congratulations Sam, you deserved to win today, you were definitely the better player,” he said.
“To the Australian Open, I love you so much. Thanks so much to Jane (Hrdlicka), Craig (Tiley) and everybody, for changing my life and backing someone who is disabled to be the front of your brand.
“It’s not all around the world when every single locker room we go into there’s wheelchair tennis on. It started on this court, right here together, so I’m very thankful."
Alcott retires from tennis leaving an incredible on-court legacy, capped by his historic golden slam in 2021.
The 31-year-old won all four grand slams as well as gold at the Tokyo Paralympics to forever etch his name in the history books, however the newly crowned Australian of the Year made it clear his legacy would be about so much more than tennis.
“To my team, I love you all so much. It’s been an incredible eight, nine, 31 years for some of us. It’s my mum’s birthday today, happy birthday mum, I love you," he said.
“I’m really the luckiest guy in the world, and I didn’t need to win today to realise that. It would have been nice to win, to be honest, but I’m still the luckiest person in this country, if not the luckiest person in the world."
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The 31-year-old admitted before the match he was "fried" after rushing to Canberra on Tuesday night directly following his semi-final win, soaking in the honour that came his way, and preparing for what he said was his "last dance".
Schroder worked Alcott all the way around the court, forcing the homegrown hero into making 31 unforced errors.
"The Australian Open, I love you so much ... thank you for changing my life but also backing someone who is disabled to be the front of your brand," the world No.1 said.
"You changed my life, but judging by that award I got a couple of days ago, maybe I helped changed some other lives as well."
Alcott received an unbelievable level of support in the stands, with last year's Australian of the Year Grace Tame watching on.
But what pleased Alcott most was the number of disabled people, a large number of them children, who were able to turn out for the final.
Host broadcaster Nine Network even held back TV news bulletins across the country to stick with Alcott's match until the end.
"I'm really the luckiest guy in the world and I didn't need to win today to realise that," Alcott said.
"It's because you, everyone watching here, that people like me, people with disability are getting the recognition and that we're integrated and involved in society.
"If you look up there in the stands and the number of people with disability that are here.
"That's the reason I get out of bed, it really is.
"To my community, thanks for always backing me, I hope I make you proud in the next 12 months as your Australian of the Year."
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