This article was first written by Nicole Hunt.
The summer of tennis has started already and so the season begins for 2018. A clean slate for some. For others the defence of rankings points and tournament titles.
Gilles Muller, a 34 yr old left hander from Luxembourg, is the proud owner of two ATP titles. Both came just last year and the first was the 2017 Sydney International. He cried when he won and it was hard not to cry with him his joy was so contagious. Tonight he plays Frenchman Benoit Paire on the way to his title defence.
The weather in Sydney has been the second most talked about thing this week. The most talked about is Alex de Minaur.
A year ago Alex had his first ever ATP Tour level victory. He’s been training with Lleyton Hewitt and was invited to the inner sanctum of Australia’s Davis Cup team.
A week ago in the season opening Brisbane International the 18 year old ‘Demon’ from Sydney found himself in the semi final after the three most incredible matches of his short career. One of them was a straight sets win over Canadian Milos Raonic who owns one of the fastest serves in tennis. He can top out at 250kmh. Was the Demon concerned? Not a bit.
Alex stood up almost on the baseline and sent those rockets back to Raonic before any if us watching even knew what happened. That’s what was so striking about Alex – he was utterly fearless.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so young look so comfortable on court. He looks like he belongs there, taking it to the world’s best without any hesitation. He fights hard and chases down every ball. Every. Single. One.
He’s had a similarly stunning week at the Sydney International, his home tournament. He seems singularly focused. He says the enormous crowd support helps him but I don’t think he even knows we’re here.
The moment he walks onto centre court in his quarter final match against Feliciano Lopez, it starts to rain. We’ve waited a couple if hours to see him play and now this? That’s tennis.
When it eventually starts he goes toe to toe with Lopez all the way until finally the break comes and he takes the first set 6-4.
He starts the second a little differently, breaks in the first game and despite everything Lopez thows at him he never relinquishes the lead. He continues to do the impossible. He finds space where there is none. He serves a slow 149kmh ace. He dives forward, slips, and still manages to scoop up a low ball for a winner. Lopez looks like all Alex’s opponents this week – perplexed when they can’t out-muscle the kid and frustrated when he won’t go away.
The arena is full of kids watching Alex despite the late weeknight hour. These are the same kids that saw Ashleigh Barty set up an all Aussie semi final with Dasha Gavrilova earlier in the day. They’ll be playing their junior comps this weekend talking about Alex, Ash and Dasha and their own tennis dreams will seem much closer to coming true. I love that about tennis heroes. Every little tennis kid has one. I did.
Alex pulls away and takes the second set, and the match, to a roaring crowd. The teenager who takes his inspiration from the ‘blue wall’ of the NSW State of Origin team has done it again, arguably much better than any Blues side has been for ages. He’s made two ATP semi finals in two weeks.
Outside on another court Gilles Muller has been defeated by Benoit Paire. For his trouble, Paire will go on to face the teenager who defeated him right here the year before, the kid who until then had never had an ATP Tour level victory. Alex de Minaur. I wonder if that brings its own demons.
Muller looks deflated and walks slowly back to his seat. My heart is broken for him. Sometimes it just isn’t your day.