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Australian Open: Alex de Minaur’s defeat means bleak Aussie run continues at home slam

Australian Open: Alex de Minaur’s defeat means bleak Aussie run continues at home slam

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No matter how much Alex de Minaur screeched and sprinted, from side-to-side with trademark velocity and determination, you always felt the admirable Australian No 1 was going to fall just short come the end. This fourth-round clash against fifth seed Andrey Rublev was always going to be swashbuckling – if that needed any more clarity, its night-time billing at the Rod Laver Arena over 10-time champion Novak Djokovic forecasted something close to a thriller down under. De Minaur spoke in the build-up of “earning the right” to fill that match-of-the-day slot.

But forget the day: this clash was the match of the Australian Open so far.

This one was always going five sets. And the final-set bagel in favour of Rublev far from told the whole story. For this four-hour and 14-minute slug-athon – which ebbed and flowed in a fashion where holding serve at times seemed tougher than breaking serve – encapsulated the sheer ferociousness of the next generation of men’s players in their twenties. Rublev prevailed, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-0, and will face Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals as he looks to reach the last four of a Grand Slam for the very first time.

Alex de Minaur came up short in a thrilling five-set match against Andrey Rublev

(Getty Images)

But for De Minaur and his homeland, his exit represents another forlorn year for the hosts at the “Happy Slam”. For a country so steeped in tennis folklore, it is a bleak decade of events in the men’s singles: it is now 10 years since an Australian player reached the quarter-finals. In a roundabout way that player – Nick Kyrgios, remember him? – was on commentary duties for Eurosport as he continues to recover from injury. And not since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 has an Aussie man reached the final. Australian Davis Cup captain Hewitt was in De Minaur’s support box on Sunday night, as was De Minaur’s girlfriend, British No 1 Katie Boulter.

But no amount of support could stop the Russian renaissance by the end of the evening. In De Minaur and Rublev you have two players wholeheartedly dedicated to their craft, professionalism and maximal effort oozing in every lung-busting point and energy-sapping shot, desperate to eke out every last drop of potential and purpose. While the first set went the way of the world No 5, in hindsight it was timid – merely scampering around the edges – compared to what was to come.

Sets two and three were where the fire was lit. A continuous back-and-forth led to two brilliant tie-breaks, with De Minaur emerging the victor in both – via sheer willpower more than anything else. A memorable around-the-net shot was the particular highlight in the first breaker, building up to a huge roar from the Aussie and his fans after a backhand winner at 6-5 levelled the match.

De Minaur almost blew the third set; he was serving for it, before Rublev broke back. But by the second first-to-seven breaker, the momentum had not reversed quite enough for the combustible Russian, who was chastising his support team after every point win-or-lose, and with a pinpoint backhand passing shot it looked as though De Minaur was on the road to the last eight.

But it was not to be. Rublev found an extra gear – or three – in what was a 31st five-set match of the tournament, already record-equalling with three rounds remaining. Rublev’s monumentally gigantic forehand found its mark and, even deep in the fifth when the legs were close to giving way, his ripping of the ball on both wings was simply too hot for his opponent to handle.

De Minaur was dogged and determined but towards the end could not deal with Rublev’s firepower

(Getty Images)

Rublev is looking to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time

(Getty Images)

De Minaur, to his credit, kept fighting until the end – but his run at Melbourne Park came to a shuddering halt with maybe a tinge of regret that he was not able to grasp the initiative enough in numerous painstaking long rallies. Because when he got on the front foot, he invariably came out on top – 26 from 36 – at the net.

But the post-mortem may well be for another day; De Minaur will be back. Whether he has the weapons in his arsenal to truly challenge for the title – and become the first Australian man since 1976 (Mark Edmonson) to win the singles title at the Australian Open – is questionable. But for Rublev his firepower is indisputable, yet his Grand Slam quarter-final record is something he will want to change against Sinner on Tuesday. Currently, it stands at: played nine, lost nine.

Defending champions cruise through to the quarter-finals

Defending champions Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka cruised into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Sunday.

Djokovic was on course for a “triple bagel” against Adrian Mannarino before eventually winning 6-0, 6-0, 6-3 while Sabalenka was a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Amanda Anisimova.

Sabalenka appears very likely to face Coco Gauff in the semi-finals, after the US Open champion comfortably beat Magdalena Frech 6-1, 6-2.

Novak Djokovic won the first 13 games against Adrian Mannarino

(AP)

Elsewhere, the run of 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva came to an end as she lost out to 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova in three sets, while the biggest shock in the men’s singles came as Stefanos Tsitsipas lost to 12th seed Taylor Fritz, who will now face Djokovic in the last eight.

On Monday, Cameron Norrie will bid for a first victory over a top-10 player at a grand slam when he takes on sixth seed Alexander Zverev at the Margaret Court Arena.

The winner will face either second seed Carlos Alcaraz or Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, who meet in the night session, while third seed Daniil Medvedev plays Portugal’s Nuno Borges.

In the women’s singles, after beating Iga Swiatek, teenager Linda Noskova plays Elina Svitolina, and fellow Ukrainian star Dayana Yastremska faces two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka. Chinese player Qinwen Zheng takes on Oceane Dodin in the second night match on Rod Laver.

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