Dylan Alcott's farewell party has been spoiled with the wheelchair tennis legend bowing out of the sport with a defeat in the Australian Open final.
After a whirlwind 48 hours, the 2022 Australian of the Year was upset by Dutch second seed Sam Schroder in Thursday's quad decider at Rod Laver Arena.
After all the accolades and applause of recent days, Alcott fought hard but could not withstand an irresistible second-set charge from Schroder, losing 7-5 6-0 to end a seven-year run of dominance at Melbourne Park.
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."
Alcott heads off into retirement and a busy year ahead in his new role as AOTY with 15 grand slam titles.
He completed an unprecedented golden slam last year, winning all four majors as well as the Tokyo Paralympics event.
Alcott's last words on Melbourne Park's centre court as a tennis player were: "Should I come back? Nah, just kidding".
Australian Associated Press
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