Melbourne, Australia, 15 January 2024 | Vivienne Christie

Big stage battles are a familiar place for Alex de Minaur. At age 24, the Australian is now a “veteran” of 26 Grand Slams: at Melbourne Park this summer, he’s contesting his home major for a seventh time.

Yet De Minaur also arrived at Australian Open 2024 in new territory. Following wins this year over Taylor Fritz, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, the Australian entered the world’s top 10 for the first time.

Amid the jubilation of that new milestone came the intense focus of an expectant Australian public. And if that wasn’t intimidating enough for De Minaur, he also drew wily veteran Milos Raonic – a former Wimbledon finalist and Australian Open semifinalist – in the first round.

For the best part of a set-and-a-half, the former world No.3 presented De Minaur with an almighty test. But as the Australian increasingly challenged, so too did a hip injury for Raonic; after one hour and 55 minutes, the Canadian retired early in the third set.

De Minaur had edged ahead 6-7(6) 6-3 2-0 when Raonic decided he couldn’t play on.

“It’s definitely not the way you want to go through to the next round,” said De Minaur, who felt the injury increasingly factored after a tight first set in which neither player surrendered a break of serve.

“I started maybe midway through the second to notice a little bit him losing a bit of speed on his serve, eventually making it a little bit easier for me to kind of expose his movement, get back into the rallies.”

> READ: Thompson triumphs in all-Aussie battle at Australian Open 2024

Despite the abrupt ending, De Minaur had several important takeaways from the match.

“No matter what the situation is, I’m going to stay calm and collected,” he said. “(It) doesn’t matter what position you’re in, stay calm and collected. I’ll believe in myself to change the situation, any situation.”

De Minaur required all that spirit against Raonic. The 33-year-old had been missing from the tour for the best part of two seasons, felled by a string of injuries that at times had him questioning his will to return.

And yet he still possessed a game-changing weapon in his massive serve. The Canadian fired it up superbly early against De Minaur, with nine of his 12 total aces fired in the first set.

It was that firepower, more than the scrutiny of his new top-10 ranking, that was most intimidating for the Australian No.1.

“I think the nerves come from playing an opponent like Milos because it’s so unpredictable, so tough to play him,” he related.

“You’ve got no rhythm. Ultimately it feels like a lottery. You get to a tiebreak, and you feel like every single point is so important. That’s what creates probably the nerves and the tightness.

“I do believe I lost that first set due to that. Just got tight in the big moments. But it is what it is. It’s a five-set match. I told myself to recoup and start again for the second.”

> READ: Thompson determined to keep it interesting at Australian Open 2024 

It’s with the same level-headed outlook that De Minaur is managing the “hype” surrounding his new top-10 ranking. “I haven’t changed the slightest. For me, I still enjoy every moment I’m here. It’s a blessing starting the year in Australia, playing in front of my home fans,” he explained.

“I don’t really associate playing in Australia as nerve-wracking or more pressure. In fact, I associate it as just excitement. I walk out and I’ve got an unbelievable crowd behind me, so I’m very fortunate for that.”

De Minaur will next draw on that energy when he faces world No.41 Italian Matteo Arnaldi in the second round. The local star is focusing entirely on that encounter, despite an early exit by No.18 seed Nicolas Jarry meaning his section of the draw has opened up.

“I have no idea about my draw. I don’t look at the draw. I don’t like it. I think it’s a way of getting ahead of yourself. There’s no moment like the present,” said De Minaur when reminded of that fact.

“For me, the only thing I’m really focused about is just my next-round opponent, which is obviously Arnaldi, who is a quality Italian player with a lot of firepower.

“I’m going to be ready for that battle. Whatever happens happens after that.”

> BUY NOW: Australian Open 2024 tickets

Aussies in action – Australian Open

Men’s singles, first round
[10] Alex de Minaur (AUS) d Milos Raonic (CAN) 6-7(6) 6-3 2-0 ret.
Alexei Popyrin (AUS)
 d [WC] Marc Polmans (AUS) 6-3 7-6(3) 6-2
Jordan Thompson (AUS) Aleksandar Vukic (AUS) 3-6 7-6(3) 6-2 3-6 6-4
[9] Hubert Hurkacz (POL) d [Q] Omar Jasika (AUS) 7-6(4) 6-4 6-2
[24] Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) d Rinky Hijikata (AUS) 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-7(2) 7-6(8)
Luca Van Assche (FRA) d [WC] James Duckworth (AUS) 6-7(2) 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-3

Women’s singles, first round
[Q] Storm Hunter (AUS) d Sara Errani (ITA) 6-4 6-3
[19] Elina Svitolina (UKR) d [WC] Taylah Preston (AUS) 6-2 6-2
Magdalena Frech (POL) d [WC] Daria Saville (AUS) 6-7(5) 6-3 7-5

Men’s singles, first round
Max Purcell (AUS) v [Q] Mate Valkusz (HUN)
Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) v Sebastian Ofner (AUT)
[WC] James McCabe (AUS) v Alex Michelsen (USA)

Men’s singles, second round
[10] Alex de Minaur (AUS) v Matteo Arnaldi (ITA)
Alexei Popyrin (AUS)
 v [1] Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Jordan Thompson (AUS) v [7] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
Chris O’Connell (AUS) 
v [16] Ben Shelton (USA)

> VIEW: Australian Open 2024 men’s singles draw

Women’s singles, first round
[WC] Kimberly Birrell (AUS) v [11] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
[WC] Olivia Gadecki (AUS) v Sloane Stephens (USA)
Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) v Petra Martic (CRO)

Women’s singles, second round
[Q] Storm Hunter (AUS) v Laura Siegemund (GER)

> VIEW: Australian Open 2024 women’s singles draw

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