De Minaur Living The Dream, Winning Big In His Home Slam

Alex de Minaur (photo: Australian Open video)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 22, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

While World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is the most prominent Aussie playing in this year’s Australian Open, the year’s first major taking place in Melbourne, let’s not forget that there’s another one who is making his way into the second week – albeit with less fanfare but no less determined.

Alex de Minaur has reached the fourth round of his home Grand Slam for the first time. Saturday evening on Rod Laver Arena, the 32nd-seeded de Minaur defeated Spain’s Pablo Andújar 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 at Melbourne Park in straightforward fashion. In his fifth appearance in the Australian Open, de Minaur struck 34 winners and broke the 83rd-ranked Andujar’s serve five times during the two-hour and nine-minute match – a match he was expected to win, but was no less exciting.

“Pretty exciting to play at 7 p.m. on Rod Laver Arena in front of the great Rod Laver himself,” de Minaur said. “There’s no place I’d rather be. I’m in my home Slam doing what I love – I’m living the dream. I got the win. What more could I ask for?”

Is there a more honest and appreciative than de Minaur? Probably not. One thing’s certain, though. He’s certainly a lot different than his fellow Aussie Nick Kyrgios. More like a throwback to the ever-popular and revered Laver.

De Minaur, who was a quarterfinalist at the US Open two year ago, will play No. 11 seed Jannik Sinner in Monday’s fourth round after the young Italian from South Tyrol beat 120th-ranked qualifier Taro Daniel of Japan, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, earlier in the day on Kia Arena. The 28-year-old Daniel was attempting to reach the fourth round at a major for the first time.

“I am very happy about my match wins,” Sinner, 20, said in press. “But talking about the match today, it was a tough match for me. I didn’t know him very well. I started well but after that I made a couple of unforced errors and he raised his level, not missing many balls in the second set. It was not the most clinical performance but I am through into the second week.”

Meanwhile, fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece held off France’s Benoit Paire, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-4, behind 21 aces and his opponent’s 50 unforced errors to set up a fourth-round match against Taylor Fritz. The American 20th seed, just 24 but playing in his sixth Australian Open and 22nd major, went the distance – three hours and 14 minutes – and beat Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, nine years his senior, 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. It garnered for Fritz  a fourth-round berth at a major for the first time, and it was just the second time in seven head-to-head skirmishes that he had come out the winner.

Afterward, Fritz said beating Bautista Agut “means a ton.

“I mean, it’s huge. Like after that match I was almost close to like tearing up a bit,” he said. “It seems stupid, because so many people have made the second week of Slams but it’s just, like, eluded me for so long.

“I never doubted it would happen, but I definitely, definitely was getting sick of playing, you know, Top Four player for the opportunity every time.”

Fritz is a familiar foe for the Greek star. “I’ve shared the court with Taylor since we grew up and he’s improved a lot,” Tsitsipas said. “I will take the match very seriously and try to bring the best out in my game. Hopefully, the crowd will support me and I can do my job.”

Medvedev reaches fourth round without boos or jeers

When World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev beat No. 57 Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the third round on Margaret Court Arena Saturday afternoon, there was no booing or jeering of the second seed like there was two days earlier after he beat mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios and spoke critically of the fans during a contentious on-court interview.

Instead, Medvedev did what he does best – played steady, powerful tennis that resulted in 10 aces and 26 winners, and no breaks of his serve. The 25-year-old Russian outpointed van de Zandschulp from the Netherlands 96-76 to earn his sixth straight win and ninth in his last 10 on hard courts. It also put Medvedev into the fourth-round mix for the fourth straight year at Melbourne Park.

“I’ll put it this way,” Medvedev explained in his on-court interview Saturday. “It’s easier to play a guy from Netherlands than a guy from Australia in Australia, in Melbourne.” Then, in a goodwill gesture to reach out to the fans, Medvedev added: “Every good relationship must have its ups and downs. I hope it’s going to be more good times than bad times, otherwise it doesn’t work.”

Next for last year’s Australian Open runner-up is Maxime Cressy. The 24-year-old French-born American beat 173rd-ranked Australian wild card Chris O’Connell 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-2 with his now-familiar serve-and-volley attack that yielded him 28 aces and 70 winners to reach the fourth-round of a major for the first time.

Rublev highest men’s seed to fall

Croatia’s Marin Cilic showed pure elation after he knocked off No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev of in four sets, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3, for his second Top 10 win since 2018. The Russian from Moscow became the highest seed to lose in the men’s draw and the loss was his second in six matches against Cilic.

After the two-hour and 37-minute match that featured an all-out hitting display by the 27th-seeded Cilic and put a wrap on the evening’s session on Margaret Court Arena, the 33-year-old Croatian jumped for joy and raise a clenched fist in celebration. He also made his way over to his fans on the sideline to pose and smile for a few selfies, too.

“It is incredible, I enjoyed every single second of the match,” Cilic said in his on-court interview. “Andrey is an incredible player; we have played several times in the past and it is always difficult. I had so much fun and played great tennis.”

Cilic fired off 24 aces and won 85 percent (52 of 61) of his first-serve points.

All in a night’s work it was that advanced Cilic into the fourth round against ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who earlier rolled to a 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 24 seed Dan Evans of Great Britain by hitting 16 aces and 40 winners, and capturing 14 of the last 16 games of their one hour, 53-minute match on John Cain Arena.

“It’s definitely one of the best Grand Slam performances I’ve had,” the World No. 9 Auger-Aliassime said after his victory. “It was a tight first set, I was fortunate to get that break point to serve out and after that for some reason, everything was working for me today. I’m really happy because the first two matches were really tough for me. So, I’m happpy to be through in straight sets.”

Double faults down, Sabalenka through to second week

No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus advanced to the second week in the women’s draw with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 31 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic on Margaret Court Arena Saturday afternoon. While Sabalenka struggled at times, she still found a way to win. Her double-fault count dropped to 10 after committing 19 in the previous round. Still, it’s pretty glaring statistic that has garnered much comment from broadcasters and writers.

“I’m really happy right now,” Sabalenka said in her on-court interview. “Mostly, I’m happy I made only 10 double faults.”

Next, the World No. 2 Sabalenka will oppose unseeded and 115th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, who advanced by ending the run of Australian wild card Maddison Inglis, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, in 91 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. Kanepi is a six-time quarterfinalist in Grand Slams but is looking for her first trip to the last eight at Melbourne Park.

Also, No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland beat No. 25 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, 6-2, 6-3, in an hour and 35 minutes with 24 winners. She fended off eight of the nine break points she faced and benefited from 36 unforced errors by Kasatkina.

Next, Swiatek will face Sorana Cirstea after the unseeded and 38th-ranked Romania upset No. 10 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 6-3, 2-6, 6-,2 in one hour and 42 minutes to close out the day on Rod Laver Arena just before midnight. Cirstea hit 15 winners and broke her opponent five times in nine tries. She outpointed Pavlyuchenkova 74-65.

It was the first time that old friends, Cirstea, 31, and Pavlyuchenkova, 30, had faced each other in a major despite knowing each other since they were teens. Now, it’s the fourth time that the Romanian has earned a berth in the second week of a Grand Slam, following a quarterfinal run at the French Open in 2009 as well as fourth-round finishes at the 2017 Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2021.

Earlier Saturday, No. 14 seed Simona Halep of Romania advanced to the final 16 for the fifth straight year with a 6-2, 6-1 win over No. 98 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro.

“It was a great match,” Halep said of her Saturday afternoon win on John Cain Arena. “I think I played good tennis. She was a little bit tired and exhausted, but I’m pleased with the way I played. I feel good to be in the second week.”

Her next opponent will be France’s 61st-ranked Alizé Cornet, who celebrated her 32nd birthday with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over 29th seed Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia. Cornet, who is playing in her 60th straight major competition, upset No. 3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain in the previous round.

Also, No. 27 seed Danielle Collins of the United States ended the run of 19-year-old Danish teenager Clara Tauson with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 win and next will face No. 19 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, who beat No. 74 Zhang Shuai of China, 6-2, 6-2, in 70 minutes.

“To win is always a good thing,” said Mertens, who won 76 percent of her service points and hit 13 winners against just nine unforced errors. “Most of all, I’m pleased about my performance. I think I served pretty well, and that made my service game a bit easier.”

Out in the Open on Day Six

Australian tennis legend and Hall of Famer Rod Laver, 83, made his first visit to Melbourne Park on Saturday. Laver won the 1969 Australian Open, the first year it was held in the Open Era. Prior to that, he won in 1960 and 1962.

Saturday’s Australian Open results 

Sunday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

Saturday’s Day Six attendance at Melbourne Park reached 42,856, the highest figure of the first week.

“Quotable …”

“I am pretty proud that today I could overcome that attitude of looking to my past achievement. Because right now I’m kind of in a different tennis life. I switched my coach, I’m focusing on different stuff, and I’m trying to only look on the positive stand on what’s going to be forward.”

Iga Swiatek of Poland, following her third-round victory against Daria Kasatkina Saturday.