Aussie wheelchair tennis stars gunning for Paralympic glory
Dylan Alcott, Heath Davidson, Adam Kellerman and Ben Weekes will make up the Australian wheelchair tennis team headed to Rio for the 2016 Paralympics.
Dylan Alcott will join three-time Paralympian Ben Weekes, London 2012 Paralympian Adam Kellerman and Paralympic debutant Heath Davidson in the Australian wheelchair tennis team for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) announced on Thursday.
When Alcott, the world No.1 player in the quad class, takes to the court in Rio, he’ll be aiming to become one of just a handful athletes to win Paralympic gold in more than one sport.
Alcott was an Australian wheelchair basketballer – part of the Aussie gold medal-winning team at Beijing 2008 – before returning to tennis in 2014.
A growing sport across the country, Australia has claimed just one single Paralympic gold in wheelchair tennis – won by ITF Hall of Fame inductee David Hall during Sydney 2000 – but Alcott believes this is the year that turns around.
“Gold medals are extremely tough to win, but I want that medal more than anything. I’m really looking forward to competing and giving my best effort out there on the biggest stage there is,” Alcott said.
“Ever since I was a kid I dreamt about competing at the Paralympic Games, and to have realised it not only in one sport but two is a truly amazing feeling.”
Going into the Games as a favourite for gold, Alcott is quietly confident his goal is within sight, however, having experienced the loss of a Paralympic title with the Australian men’s wheelchair basketball team in London, he knows competition will be tough.
“It’s a great feeling having that ranking, however rankings mean nothing once you are out there on centre stage,” he said.
“London, although an incredible Games, was one of the most devastating experiences I’ve had. To be so close to another gold and have it ripped away by a small margin in a two horse race was a tough pill to swallow, a feeling I don’t want to experience again.
“In saying that, I’m using that to fuel me at will be a truly awesome event. I can’t wait for it to all kick off.”
Alongside Alcott, will be newcomer Heath Davidson, who at his first Paralympic Games will aim to win gold in the doubles quad event with Alcott.
Having taken a 10-year hiatus from wheelchair tennis, Davidson too, is looking forward to the opportunity of showcasing the sport to new Australian audiences during Rio.
Together with Alcott, Davidson made history this year when the duo won Australia’s first ever World Team Cup title in Tokyo, Japan.
“It feels like a childhood dream come true to be heading to Rio. After Japan, we have a really good shot in the quad doubles, so a gold medal would surely be nice,” Davidson said.
“Having Dylan as my partner is awesome because we are good friends outside of sport, so we have a great relationship. But I’m most looking forward just to being part of the team and supporting them.”
Kellerman and Weekes have both experienced the highest level of wheelchair tennis, having competed at four Games between them.
Said Kellerman: “At London, I was excited just to be there and everything was overwhelming, but this time, I’ll be able to stay grounded and appreciate the experience more.
“To have London behind me will be a huge advantage, and I’m really looking forward to showing how far I’ve come in my first match.”
Australia has won nine medals in wheelchair tennis at the Paralympic Games – one gold, five silver and three bronze – since it was first introduced at Barcelona 1992.
Chef de Mission of the 2016 Australian Paralympic Team, Kate McLoughlin, believes the 2016 Australian wheelchair tennis team is one of the strongest yet.
“Wheelchair tennis is an exciting sport at the Paralympic Games, for both the athletes and spectators, and the quality of competition has increased 10-fold since London,” McLoughlin said.
“We have a real mix of experience on this team. Heath is heading to his first Games, Dylan is world No.1 but has never competed in wheelchair tennis at this level before, and Ben and Adam are in top form to do well for Australia.
“I want to congratulate all four athletes on their selection. We’re very proud of each of them, and we’re looking forward to seeing them reach new heights at the Rio Games.”
Wheelchair tennis is open to athletes with a physical disability and follows the same rules as able-bodied tennis. With the sole exception that the ball is allowed to bounce twice, athletes play in singles and doubles events with the first to win two sets declared the winner.
The Rio Paralympic Games will be staged on 7-18 September, 2016.
Dylan Alcott – Brighton, VIC
Heath Davidson – Rosebud, VIC
Adam Kellerman – St Ives, NSW
Ben Weekes – Strathfield, NSW