He’s one of the breakout stars on the men’s tour this season and on Tuesday, he received the ATP Newcomer of the Year award on centre court at the O2 Arena in London.
Australian Alex de Minaur rocketed up the rankings from outside the top-200 in January, to his current position of 31, and the 19-year-old is undoubtedly one of the most exciting young prospects on the circuit.
He was runner-up at the Next Gen ATP Finals tournament in Milan last week, to Stefanos Tsitsipas, and is arguably one of the fastest-moving players on tour.
“It’s funny. When I was a kid I had very big feet and I felt very clumsy out on the tennis court. I think once I was able to grow into my shoes, then the coordination and all the different aspects came together. My movement probably wasn’t there until maybe three or four years ago, that’s when it started to click,” De Minaur told a small group of reporters in London on Tuesday.
In town to receive his award and to take some ATP University classes, De Minaur’s offseason will see him go home to Alicante, Spain to get his driver’s license, before heading to Melbourne, Australia for his preseason training.
Asked what the Newcomer of the Year award means to him, he said: “It’s really special, especially for it to be voted by the player. It’s an incredible feeling and it helps what I’ve been trying to achieve this year, to feel like I belong here and to feel part of the tour and to be able to try to push these top guys. It’s been an incredible year and this is the cherry on the top.”
At 183cm, De Minaur is one of the shorter players belonging to the ‘Next Gen’ group that includes towering figures like Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Taylor Fritz. The Aussie teen joked with the 193cm Fritz in Milan that he would give him some of his speed in exchange for a few centrimetres of height.
It was all just banter though as De Minaur insists he is confident in both his game and abilities.
“No,” he firmly says when asked if he’d trade his speed for being taller with a bigger serve.
“It’s part of who I am. Obviously it would be nice to have a massive serve and massive weapon like that, but this is just me. It’s helped me learn how to find ways to win. Because growing up, I’ve never been the biggest guy or the strongest guy, so you have to sort of have to develop a little bit of a court craft. And I think that’s really helped me become the player and the person I am now and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Sport360 caught up with De Minaur in Milan earlier this month to discuss his remarkable 2018.
You started the year ranked 208 in the world and now you’re No. 31. Did you expect something like this would happen this season?
Not at all. It’s been an incredible year for highs and things are never expected. I’ve really just enjoyed every second of it. It’s a pleasure to be able to compete at this level and play some great tennis throughout the whole year and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.
Your first month of the year was incredible, making the semis in Brisbane and the final in Sydney. What was that period like for you and did it help prepare you for what came next during the season?
The Australian summer was just insane. The support I got was incredible. There’s nothing better than playing at home, with your home support. It’s probably the best way I could have started the year. From then on I’ve tried to take that momentum and that self-belief and take it the whole year.
Can you try to describe what it felt like going through all these experiences at home?
It’s just incredible, everything about it. Being able to make a final where I grew up in Sydney with all my family and friends watching me, that was one of the best experiences out there. And then later on I made my Davis Cup debut, which was always a dream for me and probably one of my proudest moments ‘til this day.
The MC introduced you earlier as the Australian No. 1, how does that sound to you?
It’s another thing I never expected. I played some serious tennis and I really owe it all to the other Aussie players. They’ve helped me grow and believe in myself and play some good tennis. I think Australian tennis at the moment is in a good spot. We’ve got four guys in the top-40 and we all want the best for each other and we keep pushing each other, we watch each other play, train with each other and it’s just a great environment.
You’re Australian, your father is Uruguayan, your mother is Spanish, and you spent a lot of time between Spain and Australia, how do you feel your multi-cultural background has influenced you?
Obviously I went back and forth from Aus and Spain a lot and I feel I was able to grab the best things out of both worlds. I’ve learnt a lot from being in Aus, and a lot from being in Spain and I think it’s definitely helped me be the player and person I am right now.
So what are some of the best things from both worlds?
You get the hard-working qualities from one part, then being able to relax and get your mind off things. Tennis is a very mind-consuming sport so you’ve got to learn when to switch off and when to switch on.
You get to work with Lleyton Hewitt, alongside your coach Adolfo Gutierrez. What would be the thing Lleyton has helped you with the most?
I think probably the biggest thing is just belief. Belief in myself, in my game, that I belong there playing against these top guys on the tour.
Do you have any specific goals for yourself moving forward?
I’ve never been one of those guys, I like to take things day by day and see where it takes me. Enjoy the ride and get better each day. That’s always been my motto and I’m going to keep it that way.
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You mentioned your fellow Aussie players, what’s the vibe like between all of you guys?
We’re all great friends. The camaraderie there is between Australian players is great. Recently I’ve had a lot to deal with Johnny Millman and he’s helped me out a lot. He’s one of the most hard-working guys out there and he deserves everything in the world and more. He’s sort of helping me out, trying to be more professional. Just different aspects. Obviously he’s got a bit more experience than me, so I’m enjoying the ride and always trying to learn.
We talk about your speed a lot, and how it’s one of your biggest strengths. Have you ever timed yourself over 100m?
I can’t say I have. I’ve never really done track and field at all. The only other time I can remember is probably doing 400m laps, just as fitness. But I’ve never really timed myself.
Roger Federer insists he is feeling no extra pressure to perform at tournaments despite playing a relatively curtailed schedule for the past couple of seasons.
The Swiss world No. 3, who fell to Kei Nishikori in his ATP Finals opener on Sunday in London, has contested 13 tournaments in 2018, and 12 in 2017, compared to 17 events in each of the seasons from 2012 to 2015.
At 37, Federer has become more and more meticulous with his scheduling, and has opted out of playing the clay season altogether in 2017 and 2018. He hasn’t competed at the French Open since 2015.
A winner of a men’s record 20 Grand Slam titles, Federer started this season with a stunning 17-0 win-loss record — a stretch that saw him return to the world No. 1 spot in February, becoming the oldest to occupy that position in the 45-year history of the ATP rankings. He is 21-6 since the start of Wimbledon though, falling in the quarter-finals at the All England Club to Kevin Anderson, and losing to John Millman in the fourth round of the US Open.
While his season remains a highly successful one, Federer acknowledges that it was never going to be like his impressive 2017, that saw him pick up seven titles, including two Slams, and lose just five matches all year.
Asked if he felt a different kind of pressure nowadays at tournaments compared to when he was playing a fuller schedule, Federer said: “I used to play exactly this schedule for about 15 years, this last second part of the season. It’s just that the clay has been less. Other than that, I don’t see a major difference.
“I want to do well at every tournament. I think fans know that. Tournament directors know that. I know it. My team knows it.
“I don’t think, per se, I’m playing worse because of it. I think I’ve had that pressure not going out early most of my career. Once I became world No. 1 anyways. Once you’ve been a former world No. 1, you always have that for the rest of your career, for every guy.
“Yeah, I mean, that my season was never going to be exactly like last year. I knew that going into the season. If you thought I was going to have, I think you are dreaming a little bit, I think. I’m happy how I played this season. I didn’t feel like playing less was a problem, if that’s what it was. I didn’t feel I played less, per se.”
Federer is targeting the 100th title of his career this week at the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London, and next takes on Dominic Thiem in a crucial round-robin clash on Tuesday.
“We haven’t played in a while, I don’t remember when that was the last time [I played Thiem]. I mean, okay, whatever. I haven’t thought about the match, to be honest. I haven’t had enough time. I wasn’t even thinking who I’m going to play next. I just know I need to do better than today. That’s pretty much it,” Federer said after his loss to Nishikori on Sunday.
Thiem is one of just three active players to have a positive head-to-head record against Federer (the Austrian is 2-1 against him), but they haven’t played in over two years and the Swiss won their sole previous meeting on hard courts.
Thiem is making his third consecutive appearance at the ATP Finals, and lost his opening match against Kevin Anderson in straight sets on Sunday.
Roger Federer produced an error-strewn performance to lose his opening match at the ATP Finals 7-6 (4), 6-3 to Japan’s Kei Nishikori on Sunday night at London’s O2 Arena.
The Swiss six-time champion suffered his first defeat to Nishikori since Miami 2014, and saw his quest for 100th career title get off to a rocky start.
Prior to the tournament, Federer had revealed that he was losing every match he had been playing in practice. In the match against Nishikori, the 37-year-old committed 34 unforced errors.
“I think it plays different or it’s definitely slower than I think the last three tournaments that I’ve played. So I think everybody’s making a minor adjustment. So am I,” explained Federer after the match.
“I’ve been feeling fine. It’s just that practice has been a bit all over the place. Practiced in Queen’s, practiced on the outside courts here, then Centre as well. So it’s not always exactly the same conditions. Overall I thought I’m hitting the ball okay. Warm-up today was totally fine.
“I think maybe we both had a bit of nerves, too, not knowing how to attack second serve. I thought I saw the bit of the same with [Dominic] Thiem, as well, early on, trying to get the right feel for it. I think we both struggled to get that early. It’s okay now, now that the first match is out of the way.”
Federer, who is making a record 16th appearance at the ATP Finals, has advanced to the semi-finals on each of his previous participations except in 2008.
There were signs of shakiness from the start, when he mistakenly hit himself with the ball, while attempting to return a Nishikori serve. But there were also flashes of brilliance from him that sent the pro-Federer crowd wild during various moments in the first set.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 11, 2018
Neither player capitalised on their opponent’s second serves but Federer was slightly more comfortable during his service games in the first set. But a brilliant backhand get from Nishikori when he was serving at 5-6, 15-30 helped the Japanese No. 7 seed swing the momentum to his side and he held serve then quickly went up 6-1 in the tiebreak.
CAN you believe that!? 😱@keinishikori in fine form 👏
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) November 11, 2018
Federer saved three set points but Nishikori converted on his fourth opportunity to take a one-set lead after 51 minutes.
Federer broke Nishikori to start the second set but he gifted him back the break and it was all his opponent needed to secure the win.
“I felt we both struggled throughout the first set. You could tell it was sort of a first round. I had my chances maybe a bit more than he did. Yeah, then I started to feel better in the second set. I think we both did. The level went up,” said Federer. “Yeah, unfortunately I couldn’t keep the lead that I got early.
“That was important, I think, at the end. That was the key of the match, that sort of I guess 10-minute swing at the end of the first throughout maybe 1-All in the second. Maybe being the leader rather than being down so…”
Federer received a warning for ball abuse in the opening set and had a quick conversation with the umpire voicing his discontent over the decision.
“I was, just because I thought what was his argument, you know, why the warning. But nothing more than that. He thought I was angry. I wasn’t. Now I’m angry because I lost, but I wasn’t, so… He knows me very well apparently, or he thought so,” explained Federer.
The win saw Nishikori snap a six-match losing streak to the Swiss. Competing in the ATP Finals for a fourth time, the two-time semi-finalist is now a remarkable 35-4 in matches where he has won the opening set.