About time Australia rallied behind Demon as Open campaign heats up

Alex De Minaur, Australian Open, featured, Tennis

It’s about time Australia started getting behind Alex de Minaur – and not just at the Australian Open – after the 22-year-old “Demon” advanced to the fourth round on Saturday night.

De Minaur accounted for Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar 6-4 6-4 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena to progress into the second week of action at Melbourne Park. He will next face Italian 11th seed Jannik Sinner, who eliminated Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel 6-4 1-6 6-3 6-1.

Demon v Sinner: it’s a headline writer’s dream. Funnily enough, de Minaur described his next opponent as “a hell of a player”.

“[I’m expecting] a lot of firepower from Jannik. I’m just looking forward to another opportunity to come out and do what I love to do,” the Aussie said after his third round win.

He will be the underdog against Sinner on Monday, with the 32nd seed having lost their only two previous meetings on tour.

Although he has been Australia’s top-ranked men’s player for the past four years, de Minaur doesn’t have the profile of Nick Kyrgios or even the likes of Thanasi Kokkinakis and Bernard Tomic.

For the fans who are critical of the bullish approach of Kyrgios or have been turned off the sport by Tomic’s entitled brat routine, de Minaur is the breath of fresh air they should gravitate towards.

Or perhaps those critics just want someone to complain about rather than a new idol to cheer.

Former world No.1 Jim Courier on Nine commentary said de Minaur had a chance to be one of the players who takes over at the top of men’s tennis when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, again, start to fade into retirement.

“There’s going to be some open daylight for players,” he said.

“You’re not going to have the greatness which has suffocated the field like we’ve been lucky to experience as viewers the last 15 years but it’s been hell for players who haven’t been in the top four.”

Courier said he was confident de Minaur would give his all to ensure he reached his potential. It’s a shame the same can’t be said of some of his contemporaries.

Not your average Australian sportsperson, de Minaur spent eight years of his childhood in Spain, and his training base is in the city of Alicante on the Mediterranean coast.

Born in Sydney to a Uruguayan father and a Spanish mother, he can converse fluently in Spanish and French, albeit with an Australian accent.

Despite Spain trying to convince him to pledge his allegiance to them, he not only rejected their advances to choose Australia, he got the number 109 tattooed on his chest after he became the 109th player to represent the country at the Davis Cup, when he made his debut in 2018.

“I’m really honoured to be able to represent Australia in Davis Cup so that’s an honour that I take as very proud and something that I’ve dreamt of since I was a little kid,” de Minaur said.

“Thanks to Lleyton, the Davis Cup captain, he got me under the Davis Cup umbrella. I was able to make my Davis Cup debut and it’s my favourite time of the year.”

With Australian tennis icon Rod Laver courtside again after being unable to travel back home from his ranch in California due to the pandemic, de Minaur gave the Rocket plenty of reasons to smile at the arena named in his honour.

“It’s pretty exciting to play here on Rod Laver Arena at 7pm in front of Rod Laver himself,” he said. “It’s a pretty amazing feeling and I got the win so what more can I ask for.

“I love playing here, the atmosphere is electric. There’s no place I’d rather be. I’m in my home slam doing what I love, I’m living the dream.”

Both players got off to a nervous start – de Minaur broke Andujar in the first game, but the Spanish veteran then did likewise for 1-1.

De Minaur had a chance to make amends at 3-3, nailing his first break point opportunity of the game with a cannon of a forehand down the line that gave the Spaniard no chance.

He had a chance to seal the first set on Andujar’s next service game but fluffed a volley on set point on the way to conceding the game.

The 32nd seed would quickly recover, though, holding serve to take the first set 6-4.

De Minaur, whose ranking has dipped to 42 from its peak of 15 midway through last year, had not even started kindergarten when Andujar, who turns 36 on Sunday, turned pro in 2003.

With a career-high of 32 achieved in 2015, Andujar is now ranked 83; if de Minaur is to become a top-10 player, he should be putting journeymen away with a minimum of fuss.

The Aussie broke his outclassed opponent early in the second set for a 2-1 advantage and rarely looked troubled on the way to another comfortable 6-4 scoreline.

He brought up his first set point with brilliant scrambling, topped off by a running top-spin lob which left Andujar no other response other than a polite round of applause.

The third set had an air of a fait accompli from the get-go.

De Minaur set up a break point in the fifth game and Andujar short-armed a double fault as the pressure mounted.

From there, the Australian kicked on to reach the fourth round in his home major for the first time in his fifth attempt.

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