‘It’s quiet’: Australian wheelchair tennis star Heath Davidson contemplates future without retired best friend Dylan Alcott

Finding someone to fill Dylan Alcott’s shoes is a difficult task.

That, at least, is the challenge for Heath Davidson, the man responsible for leading Australian wheelchair tennis on the world tour, as attention shifts from the red dirt of Roland-Garros to the green grass of Wimbledon.

Last week’s French Open marked Davidson’s first appearance at a grand slam event without his best friend. Alcott, who retired after the Australian Open in January, only two days after being named Australian of the Year in 2022.

The highest ranked and only Australian to take home silverware at Roland-Garros in any size, Davidson finished second in the men’s wheelchair double, along with his new Brazilian teammate, Ymanitu Silva, and also advanced to the semifinals in singles on debut at the event.

“I’m pretty happy to be able to take home some silverware, and my first major piece of silverware without Dyl,” said Davidson.

“We didn’t expect to make it to the doubles final… [I’m] really happy to finally be able to play [at the French Open]†

Australian wheelchair tennis player Heath Davidson made his Roland-Garros debut at the age of 35.Supplied: Instagram – Heath Davidson

‘A little’ quieter touring without Alcott

Being the lone Australian in the quads section of the grand slam draw – and one of the few Aussies left in all draws in the second week – is uncharted territory for Davidson.

“He’s a quiet guy. It’s different… it’s really weird because Dylan and I have been friends for 20 to 21 years and I’ve never played tennis without Dylan around, so this year was very different,” he said.

“We had a couple of FaceTimes last week. He called me because he saw my singles match against Koji (Sugeno) and just said on the phone, ‘Where has this guy been? We could have used him for the past five years!’

Heath Davidson and Dylan Alcott win gold
Heath Davidson and Dylan Alcott had a lot of success together, including four Grand Slam titles in doubles and two Olympic medals for Australia.Reuters: Pilar Olivares

“It’s just different. Not better, not worse. But yeah, it’s just a little quieter, you might say.”

With Alcott gone, Davidson had to adapt to be in the spotlight at Roland-Garros, and he’s now looking to Wimbledon later in the month.

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Leading the field alongside new teammate “Mani”, he is still developing his craft even at the age of 35.

“It’s a very different role. I’m not used to being ‘the general’ on the pitch and being the boss,” he said.

“I like playing with Mani. I think that’s a completely different role for me, like I’ve always kind of been, I don’t want to say the man in the shadows, but I just let Dylan do his thing.

“I had my part, he his, and I think we’ve done that pretty well for so long. But now that I’m not playing with Dylan, I think I’ve become more of a captain on the pitch.

“But I’m enjoying it at the moment… it’s growing me as a tennis player, I think more than anything.

“Being the one who decides what we do on the pitch and things like that help me learn new skills on the pitch and make me a better player.”

Heath Davidson (left) and Dylan Alcott (right) with the 2021 Wimbledon quads wheelchair tennis trophy.
Heath Davidson (left) considers retiring after playing his first grand slam without ex-partner Dylan Alcott (right).Supplied: Instagram – Heath Davidson

Davidson pronounced his retirement by the best in the world

The four-time Australian Open doubles champion, now in the twilight of his career, admitted last week that he was being talked out of retirement after a loss to world number one, Dutchman Niels Vink.

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†[I said]”If I keep playing for another 10 years you will probably get a very good personal best against me and I don’t want that.”

For now, Davidson can still make it with the rest, despite the rigors of the world tour and the temptation to return home.

“I’m getting old. Personally, I’m gone five to six months a year on average,” he said.

“But I don’t know, man. After last week I’m starting to think I might be able to go on a little longer.’

“If I keep playing tennis the way I play and get better and can stay with those guys, then there’s a glimmer of hope for me. So we’ll see what happens.”

“And the other glimmer of hope is that I persuade Dylan to come back.

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A passion to grow disabled sport for the next generation

For the first time, the French Open opened its draw size to eight entrants in the singles draw.

Davidson is passionate about watching the sport grow and inspiring the next generation in disabled sport.

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