Australian Open 2019: Alex De Minaur grinds through unexpected schedule, fatigue with maturity to enter third round

Consider the last one week in the career of Alex de Minaur.

On Saturday, he had to play the semi-final of the Sydney International, he won it, and then a few hours later had to come out on the court again to play the final against veteran Andreas Seppi. The 19-year-old had to grind through the unexpected schedule because of a rain delay on the previous day at his hometown event. But he still managed to win his career's first ATP tour title.

Australian Open 2019: Alex De Minaur grinds through unexpected schedule, fatigue with maturity to enter third round

Australia's Alex de Minaur celebrates after defeating Switzerland's Henri Laaksonen in their second round match at the Australian Open. AP

Tired from the double-header, he was made to play his first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday. He wasn't pleased about the timing, but he managed to overcome Portugal's Pedro Sousa in straight sets.

Two days later, on Wednesday, in full view of a packed Margaret Court Arena, he played a thrilling five-setter against Switzerland's Henri Laaksonen, and came up with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-3 win.

Standing exactly at 6-feet tall, de Minaur does not have the biggest serve in the sport, nor does he have the most potent groundstrokes on the circuit. His greatest weapon is the grit and determination to run down every ball. It's reminiscent of a style that helped another Australian great, Lleyton Hewitt, earn two Grand Slam titles and the World No 1 spot.

And at the end of a match that went on for three hours and 52 minutes, he was ready to go out for more.

“That was definitely pretty special,” he says. “I'm actually feeling good. I thought physically I handled the situation (losing the third and fourth sets) really well. I felt like the whole body was feeling good. This is why you do the hard work in the pre-season, for matches like this, to be able to feel strong and feel confident in yourself physically. That also helps you out there on court mentally. It's going to be fun for me to get out on the court again and be able to test where I am.”

The teenager has made it to the third round of a major for the third time, the first at his home Slam. This comes just a few months after he reached the final of the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan, where he lost out to Stefanos Tsitsipas. And on Wednesday, in front of a capacity crowd that included the Australia Davis Cup non-playing captain, Hewitt, de Minaur made good of the hype that has been surrounding him since he beat former World No 3 Milos Raonic at the Brisbane season opener last year.

By no means though has he been the first Australian expected to take over from the stellar heights Hewitt had reached. Bernard Tomic, at 26, was the first big name to emerge. It didn't take him too long to breach the top-20, reaching a career-high 17, but his brash attitude that has often disrespected his peers and the game itself has let him down – he even lost his racquet sponsorship after claiming to have faked an injury and being bored during Wimbledon 2017.

After losing his first-round match to Marin Cilic on Monday, Tomic lashed out at Hewitt, alleging favouritism on the part of the Davis Cup captain.

Then comes the volatile Nick Kyrgios. He's a player the legendary John McEnroe had rated very highly.

“He is the most talented guy I have seen in perhaps 10 years on the court because of his tennis ability,” McEnroe had once said. “But tennis ability is only part of it.”

At times, Kyrgios is more known for his insufferable ability to throw tantrums on the court – an ability that can take him from being in control of a match to losing rapidly. Though his career-high 13 does not justify his talent, he has not shown the mental strength to play through a tournament – he's won just four titles so far.

“Where Kyrgios and Tomic have always been conflicted, at best, about how much they want to play tennis, that’s not a problem for De Minaur,” wrote veteran tennis writer Steve Tignor. “He’s taken Australian tennis back to the days of his gritty mentor, Hewitt.”

On the night, de Minaur was guilty of committing seven double faults and hit fewer winners than Laaksonen (26 to 65). But unlike Hewitt, who would hug the baseline tirelessly, de Minaur doesn't shy away from making forays up to the net to close angles – he did that 41 times against the Swiss World No 166.

More importantly, having lost the momentum in the third and fourth set, he didn’t let it sweep him away. He was in the eye of the storm when the fifth set came around, the crowd willing their latest tennis hero on for the final furlong. They had seen him win a match point in the third set tie-break, squander it away and then lose the fourth set.

“I had to make sure I composed myself, mentally reset for the last set,” he says. “I had to try not to get down on myself and fight for every ball.”

And so he did, working hard to sprint along the length to the baseline, getting the balls he had earlier missed, the chant of 'Demon' (his nickname among Australian fans) started resonating from the stands in the early hours of the Melbourne morning. The wiry De Minaur, dressed in red, got the all-important break in the ninth game, to go 5-4 up. He then closed out the match confidently, with none of the drama that had ensued before, to battle through into the next round.

On Wednesday, he took care of a lesser known Swiss. In the next round, he comes up against the most famous Spaniard to step on a tennis court, Rafael Nadal. Calm, unafraid, and revving for another bout.

“I can't wait to compete,” de Minaur said. The kid is alright.

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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 12:29:02 IST

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