Sport Tennis Australian Open Australian Open 2019: Alex de Minaur eyes Nadal showdown after marathon win

Australian Open 2019: Alex de Minaur eyes Nadal showdown after marathon win

Australia's Alex de Minaur (pictured) faces Rafael Nadal in the third round.
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It was a tale of two comebacks.

And while only one ended in victory, the reputations of Australia’s two best men’s singles players continued to grow.

Once positions occupied by Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, the ATP rankings now show Alex de Minaur (29th) and John Millman (37th) as our best players in men’s tennis.

They did not disappoint on a refreshingly cool Wednesday evening at the Australian Open either, de Minaur progressing after a five-set slog against Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen.

De Minaur – who faces Rafael Nadal in the third round – led two sets to love and had a match point in the third before Laaksonen dug deep to make it much closer than the Aussie would have liked.

Millman also tried his hand at an epic rescue mission after falling two sets down to Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.

The 29-year-old fed off a patriotic Melbourne Park crowd and produced an outstanding comeback against Andy Murray’s first-round conqueror.

He even saved four match points in the fourth set, forcing a decider against the 22nd seed to well and truly bring on another bout of ‘Millmania’.

It was not to be for Millman, though, eventually beaten 6-3 6-1 3-6 6-7 (6-8) 6-4.

Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain is congratulated by John Millman of Australia in his second round match during day three of the Australian Open. Photo: Getty

But the sight of the Queenslander and de Minaur giving all they had – and Ashleigh Barty and Kimberly Birrell winning – was a welcome change from headline-grabbing statements from players already bundled out of the Open.

De Minaur’s 6-4 6-2 6-7 (7-9) 4-6 6-3 victory was notable for the grit and determination he showed when things were not going his way.

And while court coverage and speed is perhaps his greatest strength, this 19-year-old sure knows how to scrap.

“I got up two sets to love playing some good tennis,” he said afterwards.

“Then my opponent … he started to play some unbelievable tennis … he was able to blow me off the court.

“I just had to reset for the fifth set, be positive, fight for every ball.”

A tougher test against a 17-time grand slam winner awaits.

Nadal said he would not be taking de Minaur – his third successive Australian match-up at the Open – lightly after seeing off Matthew Ebden 6-3 6-2 6-2.

“He’s a great player … young, playing with big confidence after winning matches,” the Spaniard told reporters.

“It will be [a] tough one. I need to be ready for it.”

Millman, a quarter-finalist at last year’s US Open, was disappointed after tasting defeat but said he had “left it all out there”.

“I wanted nothing more than to go for a run here at the Australian Open – the US Open gave me a taste for that, to go really deep,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Sydney-sider Jordan Thompson was beaten in straight sets by Italian veteran Andreas Seppi.

Barty, Birrell progress

Australia’s top-ranked female, Barty, was imperious in a 6-2 6-3 win over China’s Yafan Wang.

She will play unseeded Greek Maria Sakkari in the third round and could meet defending champion Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth.

Sakkari beat Aussie qualifier Astra Sharma 6-1 6-4 in 65 minutes.

Birrell, ranked 225 places below Barty, was also victorious, the former stunning 29th seed Donna Vekic 6-4 4-6 6-1 in just under two hours.

An elated Birrell told the press she would buy a car after being guaranteed a minimum of $155,000 for reaching the third round. 

She faces second seed Angelique Kerber of Germany on Friday.

Zoe Hives will not play in the third round, though, beaten 6-3 6-3 by French 19th seed Caroline Garcia.

Around the courts 

Roger Federer and Wozniacki both won in straight sets as their push for another Australian Open title gathered pace on a day where most of the top seeds were untroubled.

Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Maria Sharapova won easily, too, while 2018 men’s finalist Marin Cilic needed four sets to progress.

The major upset of the day came on Margaret Court Arena when 20-year-old American Frances Tiafoe came from a set and 0-3 down in the second set to beat fifth seed Kevin Anderson in four sets.