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Alex de Minaur wins Antalya Open in Turkey, Bernard Tomic qualifies for Australian Open


CAlex de Minaur has opened his 2021 season in style, claiming the first ATP title on offer for the year and his fourth overall, with success at the Antalya Open in Turkey.

The Australian number one was leading Alexander Bublik 2-0 in Wednesday’s final when the Kazakh retired injured just seven minutes into the match.

The 21-year-old world number 23 dropped only one set for the week in a promising build-up to next month’s rescheduled Australian Open in Melbourne.

“I mean, it’s massive. At the start of the year that’s what you need,” de Minaur said after following up his semi-final win over second-seeded world number 16 David Goffin in a somewhat anticlimactic title decider.

“I just think I gave myself the best possible chance to go deep into this tournament and I’m happy how it finished.

“I got four matches — and today — so very happy with my level and I had some quality wins.”

Nick Kyrgios lifts up Alex De Minaur in celebration.
Alex De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios were quite the tandem early in 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.(AAP: Mark Evans)

De Minaur missed his home grand slam last year in shattering fashion, an abdominal strain forcing him out of the tournament following a heroic ATP Cup campaign for Australia.

“It was a bittersweet moment last year so hopefully a year later I can come back stronger and hopefully have a great Aussie summer,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to going back home and playing in front of a home crowd, that’s for sure.”

His stomach injury aside, the COVID-19 pandemic further stalled his progression last year, following a breakout three-title season in 2019.

But the fleet-footed baseliner, now the youngest player in the world’s top 25, came back with a vengeance when the tour resumed.

De Minaur made a career-best charge to the US Open quarter-finals in 2020, upstaging a succession of heavy hitters en route to the last eight, then reached the final in Antwerp to finish ahead of Nick Kyrgios as Australia’s top-ranked player in 2020.

Kyrgios himself barely played any matches once the world was plunged into a pandemic, preferring to stay in Canberra and train.

Tomic qualifies for Australian Open after he ‘risked his life’

One year after reaching a career low point when he failed to qualify for the Australian Open, former world number 17 Bernard Tomic has punched his ticket to the delayed first grand slam of the year.

Tomic, who still appeared to be nowhere near the level of play fans saw early on in his career, battled past Australian veteran John-Patrick Smith 6-4 5-7 7-6 (10-7) to become the only Australian to make it through qualifying.

While Tomic won the match, it was an uphill battle as Smith frequently attacked the net and kept Tomic moving around the court, employing drop shots and low balls, showing Tomic’s much maligned movement had not improved.

What had improved was the 28-year-old’s resolve to win.

He admitted post match that he was “physically pretty bad”, but he was dogged on the court.

Tomic fought back from 4-1 down in the opening set to reel off six straight games and take it.

He also fought back from 3-0 down in the second set before Smith steadied and broke Tomic to take it 7-5 and send the match into a decider.

That set was extremely tight with neither player breaking serve, and it was Smith who cracked ever so slightly as two tight line calls went against him late in the third set to send it into a match tiebreak.

“No, that was not wide … two times in two games,” he complained to the umpire to no avail.

Tomic raced out to an early 3-0 lead in the match tiebreak and despite Smith getting it back to 4-4, Tomic was never headed and a couple of aces were punctuated by a searing forehand winner to take the match.

Tomic also showed he had plenty of fight left in him off the court as he took aim at his critics.

“I am in Doha, I risked my life flying here, my health, COVID’s around, many sick, with many things that can go wrong. I’m risking my life, and I’m playing and competing. Of course, I want to get there,” he said, when asked if his tennis ambitions still burned.

He followed that up by demanding favourable media coverage.

“You’re the people who write the bad stuff about me,” Tomic said.

“I don’t think you guys have been fair towards me in the last half-decade, [or] decade. You can spin it whatever way you want, but don’t escape the fact I’ve qualified for a slam.”

“If you like me and you’re a fan of me, write nice.”

AAP/ABC



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Alex de Minaur wins Antalya Open in Turkey in lead-up to Australian Open


Alex de Minaur has opened his 2021 season in style, claiming the first ATP title on offer for the year and his fourth overall, with success at the Antalya Open in Turkey.

The Australian number one was leading Alexander Bublik 2-0 in Wednesday’s final when the Kazakh retired injured just seven minutes into the match.

The 21-year-old world number 23 dropped only one set for the week in a promising build-up to next month’s rescheduled Australian Open in Melbourne.

“I mean, it’s massive. At the start of the year that’s what you need,” de Minaur said after following up his semi-final win over second-seeded world number 16 David Goffin in a somewhat anticlimactic title decider.

“I just think I gave myself the best possible chance to go deep into this tournament and I’m happy how it finished.

“I got four matches — and today — so very happy with my level and I had some quality wins.”

Nick Kyrgios lifts up Alex De Minaur in celebration.
Alex De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios were quite the tandem early in 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.(AAP: Mark Evans)

De Minaur missed his home grand slam last year in shattering fashion, an abdominal strain forcing him out of the tournament following a heroic ATP Cup campaign for Australia.

“It was a bittersweet moment last year so hopefully a year later I can come back stronger and hopefully have a great Aussie summer,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to going back home and playing in front of a home crowd, that’s for sure.”

His stomach injury aside, the COVID-19 pandemic further stalled his progression last year, following a breakout three-title season in 2019.

But the fleet-footed baseliner, now the youngest player in the world’s top 25, came back with a vengeance when the tour resumed.

De Minaur made a career-best charge to the US Open quarter-finals in 2020, upstaging a succession of heavy hitters en route to the last eight, then reached the final in Antwerp to finish ahead of Nick Kyrgios as Australia’s top-ranked player in 2020.

Kyrgios himself barely played any matches once the world was plunged into a pandemic, preferring to stay in Canberra and train.

AAP



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Alex de Minaur upset by French Open qualifier, Daria Gavrilova makes winning return


Australia’s highest-ranked player at the French Open has been beaten in the first round by qualifier Marco Cecchinato, while Daria Gavrilova made a successful return from injury.

Alex de Minaur was the 25th seed in Paris and had the benefit of facing the 110th-ranked Italian after he made it through the qualifying stages.

But the Aussie was beaten in straight sets 7-6(11/9), 6-4, 6-0, although he showed his typical fight to push the match out to almost three hours.

Jordan Thompson was also ousted in straight sets, with the world number 53 losing to Moldovia’s Radu Albot 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.

There was more luck on the women’s side of the draw, with Daria Gavrilova reaching the second round of a major for the first time since 2018.

She got there by upsetting 24th seed Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 6-3, making a winning return from foot injuries that have restricted her to one tournament in 2020.

Daria Gavrilova looks disappointed during a defeat at the Australian Open
Daria Gavrilova reached a career-high ranking of 20 before dropping way down.(AAP: Julian Smith)

She last won a singles match at a grand slam at the 2018 US Open, although that time she was beaten in the second round by Victoria Azarenka.

The 26-year-old reached a career-high ranking of 20 in 2017 and spent most of 2018 in the top 30 before injuries saw her plummet all the way down and outside the top 700. She is playing on a protected ranking of 251 at Roland Garros.

Her reward for an upset win over Yastremska is a second-round match-up against another former star hit hard by injuries, Eugenie Bouchard.

The Canadian, who reached the French Open semi-final and the Wimbledon final back in 2014, is now ranked outside the top 100 and made it into the main draw as a wild card. She beat Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya 6-4, 6-4.

Astra Sharma was the first Australian to advance to the second round after cashing in on her late call-up as a “lucky loser” from the final round of qualifying.

Tennis player plays a double-fisted backhand,
Astra Sharma defeated Anna Blinkova in three sets to move through to the second round.(AAP: Hamish Blair, File Photo)

But the 25-year-old is now at least $140,000 richer after securing the biggest pay day of her career with a dogged three-set win over Russian Anna Blinkova, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.

Ranked 56 places below the world number 58, Sharma recovered from a service break down in the deciding set to prevail after two hours and 45 minutes.

Coached by David Taylor, the former mentor of Gavrilova and Samantha Stosur, Sharma is through to the second round of the singles draw at a major for only the second time.

And the West Australian showed true grit to progress, overcoming the disappointment of blowing a 4-1 advantage in the third set, then breaking back as Blinkova served for the match at 5-4.

Her reward is a shot at another Russian, Ekaterina Alexandrova, the 27th seed who ousted fellow Australian Maddison Inglis 6-3, 6-3.

Ajla Tomljanovic, the top-ranked Australian in the women’s draw in the absence of world number one and 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty, was also unable to overcome a tough draw.

Tomljanovic went down to Greece’s 20th seed Maria Sakkari, 6,0, 7-5.

ABC/AAP



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Alex de Minaur proves he belongs on the grand slam stage with impressive US Open run


Overcome by the sheer firepower of second seed Dominic Thiem, Alex de Minaur’s US Open run has ended at the quarter-final stage, but the 21-year-old Australian has spent the last week proving that he belongs on such a stage.

At 2-2 in the second set, de Minaur was still in the match. He’d dropped the first 6-1 but that score line didn’t do justice to his fighting qualities and the six break points he’d forced.

John McEnroe described the Australian’s physically gruelling approach as a “heck of a way to make a living”, but as a result, the same was true of Thiem’s night — his bantamweight opponent kept him honest for every second of their sweaty 124-minute battle in humid conditions at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

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Two matches earlier, in an epic five-set fightback against Karen Khachanov, de Minaur proved that he was never out of the contest.

This time around, Thiem was too ruthless and far too strong, showing de Minaur where he sits in the pecking order.

With his wispy moustache, the Australian has looked like a boy among men this week, but he has also shown fans what tour veterans already knew: being drawn against de Minaur is cause for a grimace.

The third set of this match was a classic example of the unease de Minaur prompts among opponents.

Coasting towards victory, Thiem had a momentary lapse in intensity, and de Minaur pounced, hurtling around the court and playing audacious winners to alter the momentum and the mood of the night.

At 4-4, Thiem broke for the seventh and final time, but the fist-pump that followed was an expression of relief, not dominance.

A tennis player grins as he clenches his fist near the umpire's chair after winning a US Open match.
Dominic Thiem was happy to reach his first US Open semi-final, but he was also glad to save energy by beating de Minaur in three sets.(AP: Frank Franklin II)

Cynics might claim de Minaur has benefitted from a soft draw this week, but is it ‘soft’ to enter a strife-torn country in the middle of a pandemic?

Nick Kyrgios, a strident critic of the top-ranking players who’ve sought primarily to keep their accountants busy, spoke for plenty when he said ‘no thanks’ and stayed home.

Direct comparisons between the two Australians are always unfair, their differences almost too obvious to bother highlighting: de Minaur is a softly spoken, self-contained fitness freak who defends like few others on the tour, chasing down every last ball, where Kyrgios is often the opposite of those things — enjoyably so.

The ball-chasing is an unsexy quality to consider, but means de Minaur has the makings of a long and lucrative grand slam career.

“He runs side to side and he’s never out of breath,” a wearied Vasek Pospisil said after de Minaur dispatched him in round four. “He defies the laws of biology.”

A tennis player leaps off the ground to hit a ball mid-air as his shadow can be seen on the court.
Alex de Minaur’s sheer physical effort on court has stunned opponents including Canada’s Vasek Pospisil.(AP: Seth Wenig)

What he meant, I think, is that de Minaur defies certain physical expectations of the elite male tennis star: in the upper echelons of the sport, he is a snake-hipped matador among bulls.

Lacking the size, power and the basic intimidation factor of the best, he benefits from an unflappable temperament and supreme footwork. His astonishing court coverage results from a rare combination of stamina and speed.

At basic levels of psychology and physiology, it means de Minaur denies his opponents easy points. Unable to blast them away, he wears them down.

This is where his slight frame comes in use: such masochism would break bigger men.

Indeed, it’s not always kind on de Minaur either. Several times against Thiem he fought not to show the ill effects of his helter-skelter dashing and lunging.

Some would say this all makes him the heir apparent to Lleyton Hewitt’s title of Australia’s toughest cookie. In personality, however, de Minaur is different to Hewitt in more ways than he is similar: the intensity and doggedness are there, but not the outright belligerence.

De Minaur’s gestures of intimidation are simulations of the real thing. They are punctuation marks in his match-day checklist, not interventions on his opponents’.

With this run, de Minaur edges further onto Australian tennis’ centre stage. Some will say that heaps yet more pressure on Kyrgios to fulfil his potential, but as ever, Kyrgios will foremost be happy for his friend; they cherish wearing the green and gold together.

Nick Kyrgios lifts up Alex De Minaur in celebration.
Nick Kyrgios and Alex de Minaur are very different people, but the pair of friends make a good team for Australia.(AAP: Mark Evans)

Earlier in the year, during Australia’s ATP Cup campaign, there was a moment of comic brilliance when de Minaur and Kyrgios sat side-by-side answering a series of light-hearted questions. One: “Would you rather be number one for a month, or win a grand slam?”

Only half-joking, Kyrgios jumped straight in and said he’d take the grand slam and holiday for the rest of the year.

De Minaur, of course, chose the other option, adding: “That essentially means you won a grand slam.” Outwitted, Kyrgios flashed another of his infamous smirks, seen so often in wins as in losses. Candour is one of his more endearing traits.

As flippant as it was, it reveals deeper undercurrents. There is no smirking when de Minaur plays.

He made an instructive comment — more a mission statement — after he dispatched Pospisil: “This is where I want to be and this is where I truly believe I belong, [in the] second week of slams and going deep,” de Minaur said.

It is the positive self-talk of sports psychology, perhaps, but equally a sample of de Minaur’s unflinching inner vision of his career. Be prepared for the late-night vigils.



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US Open 2020 live: Alex de Minaur vs Dominic Thiem quarter final updates


By Andrew Mcgarry

One winner and eight unforced errors from de Minaur kind of tells the tale so far.

By Andrew Mcgarry

That was a big effort from de Minaur there – he has not looked in control so far, but he kept at it and forced some errors from Thiem’s racquet. Now to consolidate.

By Andrew Mcgarry

Both men have come on court for the quarter-final. Neither was giving much away in the pre-match chat, with De Minaur saying he needed to bring the intensity on-court against Thiem. Few surprises there.



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Alex De Minaur charges into US Open quarter-finals



Australia’s Alex De Minaur has charged into his first ever grand slam quarter-final with a straight sets victory over Canadian giant-killer Vasek Pospisil.

World No.94 Pospisil had claimed two big scalps in the previous two rounds, taking out fellow Canadian and tournament 25th seed Milos Raonic in four sets in the second round, before beating eighth-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets to make the round of 16.

But against the 21-year-old Australian he was not allowed to repeat the effort as he lost 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 6-2.

If the scoreline seems like it was all one-way traffic, it wasn’t always the case.

Pospisil led the first set tie-break 6-2 but blew all his set points as De Minaur rattled off six straight points to take the breaker 8-6.

The blow of losing the tiebreak from a winning position appeared too much for Pospisil, who was broken often and early in the second set, before getting one break back late in the set.

Ultimately though that would be his last real rally as the Australian proved far too consistent for the Canadian, who’s 43 winners were not enough to offset his 48 unforced errors.

For the more defensive-minded De Minaur the performance, minus the start of the opening set tie-break, was of a high quality and he knew the first set was all important.

“That first set was crucial,” De Minaur said post match.

“I tried to stay calm, played a couple of good points on my serve and got lucky.”

The win means De Minaur not only makes his first grand slam quarter-final but remains a chance to become the first new slam winner since Marin Cilic at the US Open in 2014.

The men’s draw opened up after top-ranked Serb Novak Djokovic was defaulted in his fourth round match when an errant ball he hit connected with the throat of a linesperson.

De Minaur will now play either perennial slam contender Dominic Thiem of Austria or another Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime, in the quarters.

ABC



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Alex de Minaur and Serena Williams pushed all the way in US Open fourth round


Alex de Minaur has upset powerhouse Russian Karen Khachanov to give Australia two men in the US Open fourth round for the first time in almost two decades.

De Minaur overcame a mid-match meltdown to progress to the last 16 for the second-straight year with a spirited 6-4, 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over the 11th seed on Sunday.

The 21st seed felt compelled to apologise for losing his cool and destroying a racquet after dropping eight games in row to surrender the third set, but was otherwise delighted to advance to the second week of a slam for only the second time.

“I’m happy that I got through it and I managed to kind of turn things around,” de Minaur said.

“Look, it was a tough one. Happy to be in the second week of a major again.”

De Minaur next plays big-hitting Canadian Vasek Pospisil on Tuesday for a place in the quarter-finals.

Pospisil also recovered from two sets to one down on Sunday to eliminate Spanish eighth seed Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 and blow the bottom half of the draw wide open.

“Well, obviously even though Vasek isn’t a seed, he’s definitely playing like a top seed,” de Minaur said.

“He’s taken out both Milos [Raonic] and Bautista. He definitely deserves to be there. He’s a very, very dangerous player.”

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With de Minaur’s Sydney hitting partner Jordan Thompson already through, it’s the first time two Australian men have made the second week at Flushing Meadows since former champions Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt did so in 2001.

De Minaur was staring down the barrel after Khachanov powered through the second and third sets in quick fashion.

But the 21-year-old refused to say die, levelling the match, then breaking the Russian’s spirit in the deciding set.

Khachanov double-faulted on game point at 1-1 in the deciding set before the dispirited Russian dumped a backhand volley into the net after de Minaur rifled a brilliant running forehand to seize a decisive second break for a 4-1 lead.

With eight aces and 42 winners, de Minaur sealed victory after three hours and two minutes, emulating countryman Nick Kyrgios’s five-set third-round triumph over Khachanov at the Australian Open in January.

Both de Minaur and Thompson are eyeing maiden grand-slam quarter-final berths at Flushing Meadows.

Thompson faces 27th seed Borna Coric on Monday after the Croatian saved six match points to oust Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a five-set fourth-round thriller on day five.

Serena Williams through in three

Serena Williams plays a two-handed shot and grimaces wearing a red dress
Serena Williams had to fight in her third round clash.(AP: Seth Wenig)

Serena Williams survived a third-round scare at the US Open to topple 2017 champion Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 and keep alive her bid for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title.

A sure-footed Stephens pounced early as third seed Williams struggled with her first serve and committed 13 unforced errors in the first set, claiming an early break for a 2-1 lead.

The 26th seed kept Williams on the run as she saved two break points, with the 38-year-old struggling to find her rhythm.

But the momentum dramatically shifted in Williams’ favour in the second set.

She opened up a 4-2 lead as she cleaned up her game and kept psyching herself up in the absence of the legions of fans who regularly flock to Flushing Meadows. The stands are empty this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Williams, who got just half of her first serves in during the first set, appeared increasingly confident as the match went on, dropping just one first-serve point in the third set as the campaign slipped through Stephens’ fingers.

“It was intense, I have to say,” Williams, chasing a seventh title at the New York major, said in an on-court interview.

She sent down a dozen aces including one on her second serve.

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Williams, who will face Greece’s Maria Sakkari next, played the match in front of her daughter, three-year-old Olympia, and said she hoped “that she saw her momma fighting”.

“I don’t think she was paying attention, between you and me,” she added.

“She may have been playing with some princesses upstairs.”

ABC/wires



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Alex de Minaur beats French veteran Richard Gasquet in four sets to reach US Open third round



Australian number one Alex de Minaur has battled through to the third round of the US Open after outlasting French veteran Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (8/6), 7-5.

De Minaur raced to a two-set lead and held three match points in the third, only for Gasquet to drag himself off the canvas and win the last five points of the tie-break.

The sweet-swinging 2013 semi-finalist then raced into a 3-0 lead in the fourth set following an early break of the 21st-seeded de Minaur.

But the fleet-footed Sydneysider showed his renowned fighting qualities to level the set in sweltering conditions in New York and then broke the former world number seven at 6-5 to win a tense three-hour encounter.

The 34-year-old Gasquet was visibly wilting in the latter stages of the match as on-court temperatures nudged 35 degrees, with de Minaur saying he knew he had the stamina to see him off.

“It was a tough battle out there, Richard played a great game but I back my fitness against anyone and that really helped me out today,” the 21-year-old said.

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De Minaur, who reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows last year, will now face giant Russian 11th-seed Karen Khachanov for a place in the fourth round.

The 198cm tall Khachanov, who lost in a titanic, five-set Australian Open third-round clash against Nick Kyrgios in January, booked his last-32 spot with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 win over compatriot Andrey Kuznetsov.

Saturday’s encounter will be the first time the pair have met and de Minaur knows he will face a vastly different test against the hard-hitting world number 16 to what he encountered against the tigerish Gasquet.

“He is a big guy who likes to hit the ball very big,” he said.

“The most important thing for me is to not get dictated to and I have to stand my ground and make my presence felt.

“If I can do that then I can go well, but it is going to be a very tough match.”

The news was not so good for John Millman, who lost a brutal second-round baseline slugfest to bow out of the US Open in New York.

Australia’s 2018 quarter-finalist was unable to convert a two-sets-to-one lead on Friday, going down 7-6 (8/6), 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to talented young American Frances Tiafoe.

Tiafoe won despite committing a huge 73 unforced errors — compared to 54 for the Australian — and Millman was left frustrated he could only convert seven of his 23 break point opportunities.

Millman’s exit leaves de Minaur, Jordan Thompson and Chris O’Connell — who plays Russian Daniil Medvedev later on day four — to fly the Australian flag in the men’s singles.

AAP/ABC



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