In his downtime, Alex Bolt cruises down to a YMCA centre in Melbourne’s west with his housemates and takes in a spot of social basketball, competing as the ‘Union Road Royals.’
He’s a baller. To be more specific, a guard, tasked with dictating plays and creating his own opportunities down both ends of the court.
With an unusually pleasant sun overhead he did just that for two sets as he placed world no.5 Dominic Thiem on the ropes, coming within six games of the most startling result of this Australian Open and replicating what countryman Alexei Popyrin achieved one year ago.
Alex Bolt – neck and neck with Dominic Thiem right now – plays basketball as well as tennis. This is his player profile for the Union Road Royals who compete in the Melbourne Basketball League. pic.twitter.com/vf7SfWSpcp
— Frith 🐨 (@pluckyloser) January 23, 2020
Remarkable, considering Bolt once quit the sport to ply his time painting and playing local football, and even more remarkable, considering he was rebounding off a five-set triumph over Albert Ramos Vinolas.
The two-time French Open finalist Thiem dominated the opening 55 minutes of match, wielding his blistering forehand and backhand to punish the Australian on the baseline and racing out to a 6-2 5-3 lead.
Then, the fuse was lit, ignited by a surging Melbourne Arena crowd that sensed the change. He sensed it, too.
“They were a big part of the reason [behind the comeback]. My first-round match they got me over the line as well. I’m just lucky to have a grand slam in my own country,” Bolt said.
His sliding lefty serve found its mark. Forays to the net became more common, and fruitful.
And his forehand, latched upon early down the line, drew more winners and helped him to five straight games and the second set.
Thiem’s trio of agitated coaches chit-chatted, and were reprimanded by the chair umpire.
In response, their charge urged them to hush, perhaps a warning for the crowd at large.
But Bolt’s countrymen and women fired up with reason, because the man from South Australia’s Murray Bridge was conjuring some inspired shotmaking.
Serving with the match poised at four games apiece in the third and a number of break points saved with a brave drop shot and those serves, he pulled off the seemingly impossible.
Having pulled Thiem wide with a vicious sliding serve, the chipped response sparked Bolt’s fierce sprint short and wide to meet it.
The result? Around-the-net perfection, ecstasy from the crowd, their roar the signal that the tide had turned.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2020
“I just threw my racquet at [the ball], and I flushed it,” Bolt recounted, with a smirk.
The momentum continued into the ensuing tiebreak. Bolt quickly raced out to a 5-1 lead with some aggressive returning and more endeavours to the net.
By the end of the set, which was sealed with a bomb of a serve, Bolt had won 26 out of 37 trips forward.
The physicality required to condemn Thiem to a two sets to one deficit paid dividends. And then it didn’t, as Melbourne Arena’s five o’clock shadow cast over the court.
Thiem, renowned as one of the tour’s premier athletes, regained control and with the next gear in his game engaged, never let it go again.
Bolt won only three more games for the match, and once the final sniff in a 10-minute long game in the fifth set was snuffed, the lights went out, whiz-bang.
6-2 5-7 6-7(5) 6-1 6-2. Three hours and 22 minutes of pain.
“There were a lot of positives to come out of this match – I showed my level’s good enough to stick it with the top guys but unfortunately, fatigue and my fitness wasn’t quite up to scratch,” Bolt said, with ambitions now firmly set on entering the top 100.
Thiem, too, saw plenty of spark.
“He’s not really any weaknesses. Good lefty serve, comes in pretty well,” the Austrian said.
“So, well, there is not a single reason why he shouldn’t get in the top 100 soon.”
Conquer that fatigue, and perhaps Alex Bolt’s baller-like ways could one day propel him to his goal, among the likes of Thiem and co.