De Minaur making progress
An Aussie with Latin heritage who's based abroad, Alex De Minaur is in the form of his life and has posted the best junior Grand Slam result of his young career.
It’s a mental approach that’s paid dividends this week in New York for Alex De Minaur.
The young Australian, contesting the US Open boys’ singles at Flushing Meadows, was cruising in his second-round match on Tuesday leading 6-1 4-1 before Japanese opponent Jumpei Yamasaki came storming back.
His lead erased, De Minaur soon faced two set points, which he saved. In the ensuing tiebreak he lead 3-0, only to botch a couple of overheads and become mired in further struggle.
Yet he never panicked. He stuck a volley winner followed by a backhand passing shot winner to seal a 6-1 7-6(4) victory, and now finds himself in the third round – his best ever junior Grand Slam result.
“I’m usually very calm on court, I don’t let these things affect me too much because the end result is always worse if I do let it affect me,” he said.
“So I was just telling myself – next point, keep playing your game, the balls will eventually go in.”
Focusing on one moment at a time has been the theme of his US Open campaign. Having started in qualifying before winning four consecutive matches – all in straight sets – to reach the last 16 of the main draw, De Minaur didn’t even know who he faced next (for the record, it’s No.9 seed William Blumberg of the United States).
“I felt like sometimes I just get a little too ahead of myself and then instead of thinking of the first match, sometimes I get too ahead, and then it affects my first match. I don’t play the game style I want to play. So that’s why I didn’t bother checking further than the next match,” he revealed.
“I came out today not really worrying about what match it was, just played point by point. Now that I’m through, it’s amazing.
“I think I’m hitting my forehand well and closing in on the net well. I like to come to net a fair bet and I think I’m doing it at the right moments.”
His good form hasn’t simply been a bolt from the blue.
De Minaur showed signs of his capabilities in junior hardcourt events in August leading into the Open, which included a semifinal run at the Grade 1-level Canadian Open Junior Championships. The previous month, he played his first ever professional events when he contested three claycourt Futures events in Spain, qualifying for one and reaching the quarterfinals at another and gaining his first ranking points.
He debuted on the ATP rankings at No.1554.
Playing on clay is something De Minaur is comfortable with. Unlike Australians raised predominantly on hard courts, the 16-year-old has a Spanish mother and Uruguayan father and resides in Alicante, Spain, working with Spanish coach Adolfo Gutierrez.
Despite speaking with a perfect Australian accent and being born Down Under, he has only spent half his life there – at age five he moved to Spain for eight years, and returned to Australia for three before recently relocating again. In the past 18 months he has toured extensively throughout South America and Spain playing junior claycourt tournaments.
“I like travelling a lot, but sometimes it’s a little bit tough,” he admitted.
“Once you get used to Australia, I was liking it, and then the sudden change, it goes in your head a little bit, like when’s the next time you’re going to move again? Is any coach you’re with going be there the whole time?
“I think it is the plan (to remain in Spain) but obviously my future at the moment, who knows what’s going to happen?”
The Australian connection remains strong, however.
As well as living in Spain in close proximity to other Aussie juniors Alexei Popyrin and Seone Mendez, De Minaur is part of an Australian group in New York – also including Kimberly Birrell and Maddison Inglis – being overseen by Australian Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik.
“Because I was always going to play this tournament, I just joined the Aussie group, and it’s been really nice … It’s good when you’re on court and you can have that sort of moral support,” he said.
“Every Aussie junior, we know each other. It’s always fun to go back to Australia and see the players that don’t travel as much. Whenever I get the chance to go there, I always have a lot of fun, meeting up with old friends and all the people I used to play and train with.”
He’ll get a chance to return to Australia again later this year for some Australian Pro Tour events leading into the December Showdown.
Yet for now, his attention is firmly focused on the US Open.
In his short history of junior Grand Slam play – this is just the fifth major appearance of his career – he has copped tough draws. But having avoided the top seeds early at Flushing Meadows this time around, De Minaur is feeling good about his prospects.
“In the Grand Slams I’ve had tough matches against really good opponents who’ve eventually either won it or lost in the final. So I know I’m in the mix with these guys,” he said.
“(I’ve) played some good tennis and I’m just confident right now. Once I’m confident I just play loose, and good things happen.”