Dylan Alcott says he’s humbled and honoured to have been accepted as an “elite athlete” after carving his name in sports history as the first wheelchair star to win the Newcombe Medal, the highest accolade in Australian tennis.
The world No.1 and triple Paralympic gold medallist joined grand slam champions Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur, among others, on the honour roll after receiving his award from tennis great John Newcombe at Melbourne’s Crown Palladium on Monday night.
Snubbed for a nomination last year despite two grand slam triumphs, Alcott could not be denied again after a dominant 2016 in which he successfully defended his Australian Open title, won singles and doubles gold in Rio and was crowned as Australia’s Paralympian of the Year.
The 25- year-old – who won Paralympic gold in wheelchair basketball in 2008 – also partnered with fellow Victorian Heath Davidson to win the World Team Cup in Tokyo and collected other titles in Brisbane, Sydney, South Africa, Japan Open, France and Britain.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s been the best year of my life, bar none,” Alcott said.
“I’m so proud to be a Paralympian and to have the Paralympics on everyone’s TV this year. It was massive for me to be given this award in honour of Newk, who is such a tennis legend.
“He’s someone who I looked up to when I was young watching videos of him play.”
Alcott, who also took home the most outstanding athlete with a disability award with his doubles partner Heath Davidson, was overwhelmed to receive the top gong in Australian tennis.
“I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to win this award,” he said.
“We have an athlete with a disability category and that’s a huge honour but I see myself as an elite athlete first and foremost who just happens to have a disability who uses a wheelchair to play.
“To be recognised with the highest honour means so much to me and for people with a disability, especially kids.
“We’re often seen as second-class citizens. And even though you win the elite athlete with disability award, we weren’t actually good enough to win the able-bodied award and this absolutely smashes that glass ceiling for elite athletes with a disability everywhere.”
Alcott is the fourth different winner in as many years following 2015 recipient Sam Groth, 2014 winner Nick Kyrgios, Hewitt in 2013 and Stosur, a three-time Newcombe Medallist.
Stosur was again shortlisted after reaching the French Open semi-finals for a fourth time, with Daria Gavrilova, John Millman, Jordan Thompson and doubles specialist John Peers the other 2016 nominees.
Despite successful years on court, Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic – who were both conspicuous no-shows from the awards ceremony – were overlooked contenders for Australia’s “most outstanding elite tennis player and ambassador for the sport”.
The full list of award winners:
Newcombe Medal: Dylan Alcott
President’s spirit of tennis award: Angie Cunningham
Coaching excellence (high performance): Des Tyson
Coaching excellence (club): Helen Magill
Coaching excellence (talent development): Stephen Thompson
Female junior thlete of the year: Kimberly Birrell
Male junior athlete of the year: Alex De Minaur
Most outstanding athlete with a disability: Dylan Alcott and Heath Davidson
Volunteer achievement award: Kathy Brummitt
Most outstanding 35+ tennis senior: Leanne Swaysland
Excellence in officiating: Troy Deighton
Most outstanding club: East Malvern Tennis Club
Most outstanding Australian ranking tournament: Ferntree Gully Kia MUSTA Silver AMT
Most outstanding professional tournament: Canberra International
Most outstanding school: Wembley Primary School