Teenage tennis sensation Alex de Minaur is the first to welcome comparisons with Lleyton Hewitt, after the youngster took another step down the path well worn by his mentor before the Australian Open.
He is not so upbeat about the Open’s schedulers, accusing organisers of putting local contenders at a disadvantage – especially himself.
A road-weary De Minaur arrived in Melbourne in the early hours of Sunday to ramp up his preparations for the first grand slam of the year, fresh from his maiden title success at the Sydney International.
Earlier, he had asked Open organisers to change the time of his scheduled clash with Portuguese outsider Pedro Sousa so that he would have more time to recover after defeating Italian Andreas Seppi 7-5 7-6 (7-5) in Saturday night’s final.
The victory adds de Minaur’s name to the honour board of an event that boasts some of Australia’s greatest talents.
“That’s definitely special,” de Minaur said as he reflected on being the youngest winner in Sydney since Hewitt.
“Every time I walk down to Ken Rosewall Arena and walking down the tunnel and you see his name on the board four times.
“I’m just happy that I was able to get the win and be the next Aussie to get the win and especially at home.”
Hewitt won his first of four titles in Sydney as an 18-year-old in 2000 before winning his maiden grand slam event a year later and becoming Australia’s only men’s major winner of the 21st century so far.
And he was one of the first to congratulate the world No.29 after his success on Saturday night.
De Minaur’s title win was also the first by any Australian singles player – male or female – in Sydney since Bernard Tomic in 2013.
There is a lot about de Minaur that brings the older Australian to mind. He chases down opponents’ attempted winners with Hewitt’s customary resolve and boasts power in his punch on returns to seize the ascendancy in rallies.
“I think if you’re being compared to Lleyton, then you’re obviously doing something right,” de Minaur said.
“Growing up, he’s one of the guys I looked up to and I watched a lot of matches. And to be able to, in a way, to follow his footsteps and win (in Sydney) is definitely special.”
De Minaur was forced to play two matches in one day at the Sydney International on Saturday, after rain washed out his semi-final against Gilles Simon on Friday night.
Victory over Simon meant the 19-year-old had just a five-hour gap between that match and his final against Seppi, before flying to Melbourne on Sunday and starting his campaign on Monday afternoon.
De Minaur said it left him disadvantaged before his clash with Sousa on Monday, and into the rest of the tournament.
“What is more annoying is me having to play Monday at the Australian Open and not getting helped out as a fellow Aussie at your home slam,” de Minaur said.
“I think they are punishing Aussies for playing deep in their home tournaments and I think that’s not what they should be doing.”
De Minaur is one of the few big names playing in the Sydney tournament the week before the Open, with only four of the world’s top 30 playing at the event and another six playing in Auckland.
Australia’s top-ranked men’s player at world No.29, de Minaur’s opening match in Melbourne is the third scheduled at Margaret Court Arena.
Asked if he had asked to have the match pushed back, de Minaur replied: “Yeah”.
“They came out with the schedule before they even saw the halves or saw who was in the final in the weeks prior. I think that is pretty poor.”
The reality is that any change would have forced further complications with the draw.
De Minaur was drawn on the bottom half of the schedule, the side of which all matches are set for Monday.
Moving the Australian’s match to Tuesday would have meant that the winner between he and Sousa would have been forced to play two days straight in Melbourne.
The schedule is a complex challenge that also includes prioritising television opportunities for marquee players and adequate rest opportunities.
Tennis Australia has been contacted for comment but is yet to respond.