Alex de Minaur might be inexperienced on the tennis circuit, but he demonstrated the mental strength of a seasoned veteran to win an energy sapping five-setter over gutsy Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen in the second round of Australian Open 2019 at Margaret Court Arena on Wednesday night.
De Minaur appeared to be heading for a straight sets victory after wrapping up the opening two sets, but Laaksonen produced a stunning fightback to win the third and fourth sets to take the match to a fifth.
In a gripping 3 hour, 52 minute match, de Minaur overcame a night of wildly contrasting emotions to emerge victorious 6-4 6-2 6-7 4-6 6-3 and received a standing ovation for his resilience.
De Minaur was prepared to go the distance to set up a dream third round meeting with Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal.
“This is why you do the hard work in the preseason, for matches like this, to be able to feel strong and feel confident in yourself physically,” de Minaur said. “That also helps you out there on the court mentally.
“Really happy with how the body held up. Now I’ve just got to focus on recovering and getting ready for my next one.”
It is no surprise to see De Minaur so high in the rankings based on this victory.
The world No. 29 showed few weaknesses in his game.
Perhaps he could improve his serving power, which will come with age and more time spent in the gym and on the professional circuit against more battle hardened players.
He could also be a bit smarter in choosing when to go and when to concede a point to conserve energy, though his willingness to chase down every ball until the point is over is admirable.
Outside of the nit picking, de Minaur has an incredibly well rounded game for one so young in his career.
His bread and butter is his powerful forehand, which he manages to execute with precision more often than not.
He was comfortable dueling at the baseline with Laaksonen, which is no mean feat given the way Laaksonen rips into his backhand and forehands with real vigor.
Where de Minaur had the slight advantage over Laaksonen was his court coverage.
De Minaur has a similar determination to that of former Australian champion Lleyton Hewitt, who was sitting in his players box.
In one point, de Minaur returned two overhead smashes from Laaksonen that most other players would have been happy to concede and move on to the next point.
De Minaur is able to dictate the tempo of points because of his proficiency at the net.
He moves well forward and back, as well as side to side, and has a soft touch at the net.
There were times during the match that de Minaur got worn down in a succession of backhand slices between the players, but he shut that down by being more aggressive and meeting Laaksonen’s slice at the net.
De Minaur – the Sydney International champion last week – is playing with confidence.
His victory over Laaksonen was his seventh in a row.
Now comes the big test for de Minaur.
The youngster will come face to face with Nadal – one of the greats of the sport.
De Minaur has form under his belt and a first hand knowledge of how Nadal plays.
“I’m obviously playing some great tennis,” de Minaur said. “To be able to get all these wins under my belt definitely helps a lot to build just that momentum and keep playing some good tennis day in, day out.
“Obviously against Rafa, that’s going to be something special. I got the chance to play him in Wimbledon on centre court. I feel like I learnt a lot from that experience. I’m really looking forward to just having fun, going out there and just competing.”