Alex de Minaur rapidly becoming face of next generation of tennis stars to emerge from Australia

With Kyrgios famed as much for his tennis as his mental issues, Kokkinakis chugging along somehow and Bernard Tomic more active on social media than on the court, Alex de Minaur has quickly become the definitive face of young Australian tennis.

Anuradha Santhanam October 14, 2018 15:50:13 IST
Alex de Minaur rapidly becoming face of next generation of tennis stars to emerge from Australia

Yes, it’s 2018 and Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are still ruling the roost. Yes, if you looked at the rankings right now, you might still look at the Top 5 names and make a face reminiscent of Robin Williams in Jumanji, asking yourself, ‘what year is it?’

The last few years have seen a paradigm shift towards a newer, younger group of dynamic players, and although the top players have remained somewhat constant over the last decade, tennis’ next generation has well and truly arrived. With Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, and woman of the moment, Naomi Osaka, all now on the scene, women’s tennis has had what we might look at as a brilliant new innings.

Alex de Minaur rapidly becoming face of next generation of tennis stars to emerge from Australia

Alex de Minaur celebrates after winning a point against Marin Cilic at the US Open. Reuters

But a look beyond the Top 5 to the Top 30 ranks reveals that there is plenty of young talent that is already firing at the highest levels of tennis. There is an increasing number of players in their early 20s with strong ATP rankings — and two of the youngest are now considered the biggest rising stars on the circuit.

Australia has never been short on tennis talent, whether on the ATP circuit or the WTA. The men’s circuit, of course, has given the tennis world one of the Greatest of All Time — 11-time Major winner Rod Laver, and Norman Brookes, after whom the trophy at the Australian Open has been named. And then there are Ken Rosewall, Pat Rafter, Pat Cash, Mark Philippoussis, The Woodies (Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde), Lleyton Hewitt… you get the drift.

The second-youngest player in the ATP top 100, Alex de Minaur, who made his debut much after his older compatriots, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, has already overshot them to become the highest-ranked Australian player on the ATP circuit.

De Minaur was born in Sydney — to a Uruguayan father and a Spanish mother, this would help the family to relocate to Spain when de Minaur was five so that he could train. He only returned to Australia relatively recently — in 2012 when he was a 13-year-old, and has represented the country since, describing his “strong bond” with Australia.

Despite the fact that he is still a teenager, de Minaur is no stranger to the upper ranks of tennis. A former junior World No 2, de Minaur made it to the final of the Wimbledon juniors… in 2016. But then, he lost to his co-wunderkid, another young player making significant inroads on the men’s tennis ladder, Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov.

Already, de Minaur has earned significant praise from some very high quarters. Swedish former World No 1 Mats Wilander has said he thinks the young player has “more on-court intensity than Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt.”

Indeed, de Minaur’s game is perhaps perfectly suited to the current crop of baseline-specialists and aggressive tennis players. More a defensive player than an attacker, de Minaur tends to hit the ball flat, ending rallies. For all his speed, de Minaur rarely, if ever, strays from around the baseline.

The teen stays around there to return shots, which he appears to do with consummate ease. The 19-year-old’s returns are almost like a reflex action, leaving his opponents little or no time to react — immediately giving him control of rallies, and quickly. That’s a pretty big thing for a player who, until last year, was still active on the Futures tour.

For all his defence-intensive tennis, de Minaur is an excellent reader of his opponents’ serve, and can move around to react in next to no time. Many have said his returns remind them of another fiery Aussie great, the former No 1 Hewitt, and with a look at de Minaur’s quiet control of his games it’s not really hard to see why.

This year has been de Minaur’s best yet. In 2018, he beat two experienced campaigners back-to-back at the Brisbane International — first Steve Johnson, and then former World No 3 Milos Raonic, who has always been known for his big serve. De Minaur triumphed 6-4, 6-4.

This year at Sydney, the youngster beat Fernando Verdasco, Damir Dzumhur and Feliciano Lopez to reach his second ATP tour semi-final. That came only a week after he reached his first semis in Brisbane — not bad stats for a relative newbie.

Even as his peers and seniors have fallen off the radar, de Minaur has maintained a quiet, but powerful presence both on the court and off it. With Kyrgios famed as much for his tennis as his mental issues, Kokkinakis chugging along somehow and Bernard Tomic more active on social media than on the court, de Minaur has quickly become the definitive face of young Australian tennis. Most pundits, seasoned tennis players and more have shied away from drawing comparisons to senior players — and that is because de Minaur’s game is one all his own. His shot-making is consistent, yet, unique. His game is quick and still tactical, enjoyable and exciting — both now and for the future.

Perhaps putting the pressure of being ‘Australia’s Next Big Thing’ on his young shoulders would be too much of a weight for de Minaur at the moment — and that is exactly what I think the best in the game should avoid. Already, left relatively to his own devices, the young talent has flourished both rapidly and successfully: his 2018 US Open run is more than enough evidence of that.

The young player took former US Open winner Marin Cilic to an edge-of-the-seat tiebreaker, staving off a staggering six match points before eventually succumbing to the Croatian ace in a match that went on into the early hours of the morning.

Whether it has been young players or seasoned older ones — Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, and everyone in between — already de Minaur has shown no sign of the nerves that so many of his peers have.

And whether it has been the big Grand Slam stage or the Futures circuit, one thing has always been for certain: de Minaur is a silent, unassuming and, of course, immensely talented young player who is well on his way to the top of the circuit; already, he has his fans… Alex-cited.

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