These are changing times in Australian men’s tennis. For years it was Bernard Tomic who was touted as a future champion, but as the nation’s former No 1 took another slide down the ladder here today the country was lauding the exploits of an 18-year-old who has taken the game by storm over the last fortnight.
Less than 24 hours after Alex De Minaur, the world No 167, had played in the final of the Sydney International, Tomic bowed out of the qualifying tournament for the Australian Open, which begins here tomorrow. Tomic, who was denied a wild card by tournament organisers because of his consistently poor attitude, was beaten 6-1, 6-7, 6-4 by Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego.
Tomic, who was in the world’s top 20 two years ago, was typically brusque when questioned by reporters after the match. “I just count money, that’s all I do,” the world No 142 said as he walked away. “I count my millions. You go do what I did [on court]. Bye-bye.”
Unless Tomic is given a reprieve as a “lucky loser” – any player who pulls out of the tournament before their first-round match is replaced by one of the losers in the final round of qualifying – he will miss his home Grand Slam tournament for the first time since making his debut nine years ago.
De Minaur, meanwhile, has enjoyed a wonderful first fortnight of the year. Having reached the semi-finals of last week’s Brisbane International, where Milos Raonic and Steve Johnson were among his victims, the 18-year-old went one better in his home city of Sydney before losing 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.
“It was crazy,” De Minaur said after arriving here today. “All the support I got that week was just unbelievable. Growing up and hitting on those courts, actually watching that tournament as a spectator, to actually play in the final there was an incredible experience, a week I’ll never forget.”
He added: “I think I soak up all the energy from the crowd. It’s great to have such an unbelievable crowd behind you. I really cherish the moment and am thankful for all the supporters that come out there. It’s just unbelievable to play in front of such an amazing crowd.”
De Minaur won his debut match in the Australian Open here 12 months ago, beating Gerald Melzer in five sets before losing to Sam Querrey, and on Tuesday will take on Tomas Berdych, the world No 20.
“It’s going to be a very tough match,” De Minaur said. “But then again, I can’t wait to get out there. It’s going to be fun. Hopefully it’s a real good battle.”
Asked about the expectations on his shoulders, De Minaur said: “I just go out there on court. It’s just another tennis match. It’s another day, another opportunity to get better. I’m just going day by day.
“I just want to have a good match against Berdych. I want to leave it all out there, compete for every point, give myself the best opportunity I can to play well. I think that’s the only thing I can ask from myself.”
De Minaur admitted that it was “strange” to see his name splashed all over the newspapers and mentioned regularly on television and radio.
“I guess when you’re a little kid, that’s something you aspire to get to,” he said. “It’s crazy that it’s happening now, but it’s the same old me. Nothing’s going to change. I’m still going to get out there on court and leave it all out there, give it my best.”
“The Demon”, whose mother is Spanish and father Uruguayan, spent the first five years of his life in Sydney but has since divided his time between Spain and Australia.
He has been working closely with Lleyton Hewitt, Australia’s Davis Cup captain. “He’s been a help for a long time,” De Minaur said. “He just gives me advice on how to deal with different types of situations, expectations, pressures, because he’s actually been through every single type of scenario you can think of on a court.”
De Minaur thinks his recent form is down to confidence and self-belief. “I’m just trying to continue to ride this wave,” he said. “Every single time I step on court, I’m learning something new. I’m trying to soak it all up.”