Wheelchair tennis is so much about anticipation and commitment. A wheelchair can’t move as abruptly or quickly as the human body, so wheelchair athletes have to make earlier decisions to move to a space as they require more time to go from A to B, even with the rule that allows a ball to bounce twice before returning it.
Other than that, wheelchair tennis is the same as the tennis we see from the likes of the Williams’ sisters, Federer, Nadal and Murray. Playing angles. Serving wide and volleying into open court. Lobbing and dropping shots. Fighting over line calls.
Brit Andy Lapthorne and Aussie Dylan Alcott represent the best of competitive wheelchair tennis, and they played each other in the Quad singles wheelchair tennis finals at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Alcott defeated Lapthorne 6-3, 6-4 to bring home the gold for Australia.
Alcott is an athlete. He not only won gold in men’s quad singles and quad doubles in Rio, he also won gold in Beijing and silver in London on Australia’s men’s wheelchair basketball team.
But when the 25-year-old thinks back to his 12-year-old self, the confident Alcott remembers a totally different person. “I was an insecure kid about my disability,” he said post-match. “A few kids used to call me a cripple, and I hate that word. I used to believe them. If you told me back then when I was 12 and not wanting to go to school that I’d be a triple Paralympic gold medalist across two sports, I would have said ‘get stuffed’.”
Sports has become the open door for so many people who have been considered “disabled”. And with the growing importance of achievement in international competitions like the Paralympics, more funds are being invested in the training and support of disabled athletes. The governing body of tennis in Alcott’s country, Tennis Australia, has supported the growth and popularity of tennis in Australia, including those wheelchair bound. Alcott credits Tennis Australia in this Sydney Morning Herald article.this link
Tennis Australia sat me down and said if you want to do this properly, we’ll support you. And I said ‘I don’t want to be supported like a wheelchair tennis player, I want to be supported as a tennis player, like Nick Kyrgios is, or Sam Stosur is. I don’t care that I’m in a wheelchair. If you treat me equally to them, I’ll do it. And they did, and they gave me everything that I wanted. They treat me as if I’m Roger Federer.
Alcott is likely unknown to most of us, but for those kids in wheelchairs, with boundless energy trapped inside, he is a role model and a hero.
“I’ve got an income, I travel the world. I love my life,” Alcott said as he basked in the elation of his gold medal achievement.
And like all champions, the road has been long and hard. You know it has. You can see it in the warm embrace Alcott and Lapthorne share at the end of the match, which you can watch at this link.