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Alex De Minaur tipped to break into top 10 after surviving 'crazy' year | Linda Pearce | Sport


Alex De Minaur has already spoken about one of the lowest moments of his challenging season – the afternoon he retreated to his London hotel room after a first round loss at the Queen’s Club. He had a can of Coke to wash down copious quantities of lollies and chocolate, and a downbeat mood that left him unwilling to speak with anyone until noon the following day.

And now Australia’s top-ranked men’s player has also also discussed how it felt to emerge from the gloom caused by a persistent groin injury, while burdened by a version of the second-year blues that was not just physical but mental for the ATP’s most acclaimed newcomer of 2018.

When De Minaur looks back now on his struggles, “dark place” is the go-to term for a player who at Monday night’s Newcombe Medal function was happily back under the bright lights, amid heavy traffic on the blue carpet. Officially in Ash Barty’s shadow as she won the top gong for the third consecutive time. But, really, not.

“It’s been obviously a crazy year, but I’ve been very happy with the effort we’ve been able to put in. Especially [because] it’s been a tough year with injuries and that, so very happy to be standing right now at [world No] 18,” De Minaur told Guardian Australia. “In tennis you go through stages where there’s lots of ups and downs, but as soon as I was able to get my head in the right place I was able to play the tennis I knew I could.”

It took daily help from his trusted Spanish sports psychologist, as well as the support of long-time coach Adolfo Gutierrez. It took a more positive attitude, and better capacity to deal with the heightened pressures and expectations that magnified the disappointments. And it eventually took a healthy-again De Minaur into the top 20, 13 places above where he finished a breakthrough year after soaring from 208th.

“It was definitely much harder. Much harder than I expected. Much harder than you can prepare for,” he said of 2019. “But that’s what experience does: you sort of deal with it in the moment, and I’ve learnt how to deal with it and I’m looking forward to 2020.”

On a night that was so much about Barty, there was also plenty of love in the room for the similarly humble and extraordinarily tenacious De Minaur. John Newcombe was among those to laud the 2018 joint winner of his eponymous medal, who in his follow-up season claimed three ATP 250 hardcourt titles – including Sydney, while still a teenager – from five finals.

“He started off the year great, then it took him four or five months to get over all the injury problems and get back on track again, so I admire the way he came back the last half of the year,” said the seven-time major singles champion.

“You can see he’s getting physically stronger, and as that happens he’ll get better and better, so with his attitude and the way he’s going I’d have to be surprised if, this time next year, he’s not in the top 12 and possibly the top 10. I look at the guys outside of the top, say, six, and Alex can mix it with all of them.”

To push the very best, though, it is accepted De Minaur will need to add even more heft to his game – his serve in particular – and Newcombe heard recently from his old mate Tony Roche of the improvement that was apparent during an impressive unbeaten effort at the new-look Davis Cup finals last month in Madrid. Australia’s quarter-final exit was no fault of De Minaur’s, whose scalps included top-15 duo David Goffin and Denis Shapovalov.

Further enhanced weaponry, though, would help – and De Minaur knows it. Hence the significance of his title win in Atlanta in July when the former junior Wimbledon finalist did not face a single break point. “Especially to get my confidence back, that was a big boost. I knew I was playing good tennis, but obviously the results weren’t really showing, so to get that under my belt, it really catapulted [me into] the rest of the year.”

He took a single week’s holiday at the end of this one, and spent as much of it as possible sleeping – or “regenerating the batteries”, as he quaintly describes it – at the family home in the Spanish coastal town of Alicante.

With the strength and size he intends to keep building through a pre-season that starts in Melbourne this week will come the power he is seeking, De Minaur believes. “So that’s a lot of work in the gym. I’ve felt the difference even with my serve, with getting a bit stronger in my core area, so with the hard work you’ll be able to see the improvements.”

But not at the expense of his great assets, including the run-down-every-ball foot speed Rafael Nadal considers without peer on the tour. “It’s a healthy balance you want to achieve,” said De Minaur. “You don’t want to go overboard, because you don’t want to minimise one of the best areas of your game, so I’ve just got to be cautious with that. I’ll take it step by step. I don’t think I’ll be getting too big any time soon.”

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