‘Bully me around the court’: Alex de Minaur bulks up for 2024 French Open breakthrough

Estimated read time 5 min read

Up until this year, Alex de Minaur would arrive at Roland Garros with trepidation, knowing, with all the will in the world, that his stay in the French capital would be short and probably brutal. At times, he almost felt like he was being bullied, a boy against men, slipping and sliding on clay with nothing to hurt stronger, more seasoned opponents.

On Monday, as the sun came out in Paris for the first time in this year’s event, the 25-year-old became the first Australian to reach the men’s singles quarter-finals at the French Open since Lleyton Hewitt two decades ago.

“It’s pretty extraordinary, if you ask me,” De Minaur said, after a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win over Daniil Medvedev, the No 5 seed. “I always thought that for me to play well on the clay I needed hot, lively conditions. But, you know, this whole tournament has proven otherwise, right?

“It’s been a complete shock to the system, to everything I ever believed in. But now it looks like it’s one of my best slam results. Looks like I’ve converted myself into a clay specialist.”

It remains true that hard courts are still De Minaur’s best surface but his improvement on clay has not been by accident. Instead, De Minaur realised that he needed to put on muscle and so he set about doing it just as he’s done everything in his career, with absolute and total conviction.

Intense gym work has seen him grow stronger and the result has been an improvement in his weight of shot, especially on serve. Against Medvedev, his average first serve speed was faster than the Russian, and he ended up with 51 winners in all.

“I think a lot of [the improvement] has been experience and mentality,” De Minaur said. “Growing up Aussie, you look at clay in a different way to the way you look at grass. That is just pure fact. I wasn’t really quite prepared mentally to have a good clay court swing. In a way, I didn’t really think I had it in me and I didn’t think it suited my game.

“Physically, I’ve gained a lot of muscle, a lot of strength. Because my tennis itself, my groundstrokes are not probably best suited for clay, I don’t play with too many revolutions on the ball, that’s where the strength comes in.

“It allows me to maintain a pretty strong average rally ball that helps me hurt my opponents and not get pushed around. I think in the past, when I was a little bit lighter, I definitely felt like the bigger, stronger guys could really push me around and bully me around the court.”

No more. With his fellow Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis watching on, De Minaur showed an increasing determination to get to the net and the stats backed up the eye. In total, he went to the net 128 times and even though he only won 66 of them, the intent forced Medvedev on the retreat.

“He’s unbelievable,” three-time Roland Garros champion Mats Wilander told reporters. “He’s actually stronger, too. You can see it on his legs. His legs are stronger every time I see him.

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“You’re talking about who are getting the most out of his game and you have to say that Alex de Minaur is getting the most out of his game. I still think there’s more because he’s so fast and if he learns how to be fast at the right time on the right ball [he can be even better].

De Minaur pointed to the support he received from Thanasi Kokkinakis in the stands as another indication of the standing the 11th seed is held in by his countrymen, all of whom look up to him for his work-rate, his professionalism and increasingly, his results. If a quarter-final appearance in Monte Carlo at the start of the clay-court season planted the impression he could do well on clay, reaching the last eight in Paris has cemented it.

Above all, though, De Minaur paid tribute to the young fan who returned to support him on Monday, having been there for his previous match, after De Minaur reached out on social media and got him tickets.

“He’s managed a miracle,” De Minaur said. “Might have to get him on tour week in, week out. We found him [after the third-round win] through the beautiful world of social media, we ended up finding him. We got him to the match. He came with his whole crew, with his mates and his coach.

“It was great to see him out there. Even on that big court, I could hear him after every single point. It’s a distinctive voice, so it’s great to see. He’ll be around. I think he’ll be chilling with me tomorrow on my practice day, and of course he’ll be there for the very next match.”

Source: theguardian.com

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