Six months after being handed a grand slam lesson by Rafael Nadal, Aussie fighter Alex de Minaur is hoping to turn the tables on the Spanish great, who says the Aussie teen is a “great player”.
The 19-year-old Sydneysider dug deep to topple Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen in a five-set thriller on Wednesday night and book a spot in the Australian Open third round.
His next challenge is a Friday showdown with Nadal, who walloped the teenager 6-1 6-2 6-4 in their maiden meeting at Wimbledon last year but has predicted that the Aussie is capable of winning Grand Slams.
“Whenever he steps out on court, he always has that presence. No one can take that away from him,” de Minaur said of the 17-time grand slam winner.
“I’ve just got to go out there, try to focus on my side of the court, generally just go out there, have fun. Hopefully take it to him.”
Seeded 27 after only cracking the world’s top hundred last June, de Minaur has enjoyed a meteoric rankings rise, and is on a seven-game winning streak that included his first ATP title in Sydney.
That run looked in danger when Laaksonen came from two sets down to force the round-two match into a deciding set.
But de Minaur rallied for a 6-4 6-2 6-7 (9-7) 4-6 6-3 triumph in three hours and 52 minutes.
While compatriots Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic have attracted negative headlines after round-one Melbourne Park exits, de Minaur has garnered support with his fighting spirit.
“Every time I step out on court, I leave 150 per cent out there. That’s the bare minimum,” he said.
“You want the players in the locker room to know you as that kid that fights ’til the end, has that never-say-die attitude.”
De Minaur is still getting used to the spotlight that comes with being Australia’s top-ranked male player but says he keeps a low-key routine.
“I still go have an acai bowl in the morning. I do the same things a 19-year-old kid would do.”
“I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I am, to be able to play the sport that I love every single day. I’m never taking that for granted.”
Nadal has knocked out Aussies James Duckworth and Matthew Ebden without dropping a set en route to the third round and said he wouldn’t be taking his younger opponent lightly.
“He’s a great player, young, playing with big confidence after winning matches. It will be a tough one,” the 31-year-old said.
De Minaur, who spent time growing up in Spain, said he recalled watching Nadal win his sole Australian Open on television in 2009.
“I think this is what you play for, to play the biggest guys and the best guys at the top of their level on the biggest stages,” he said.