Once tagged as a journeyman Alex de Minaur has emerged from his chrysalis as a hitman, writes Editor at Large Louise Evans
Australia’s top ranked player Alex de Minaur knew he’d finally cracked the big time when he scored the prime time night slot on Melbourne Park’s centre court for his first round match at the Australian Open.
He didn’t get the 7pm pole position on the schedule because of who he was playing. He got it because of who he now is: Australia’s newest world top 10 player.
“Honestly, to come into the Australian Open and get the primetime slot on Rod Laver Arena, it’s a pretty cool experience,” de Minaur said after being gifted a first-round walkover by Canada’s injured former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic who retired mid-way through the third set with a hip injury.
“To see the crowd there all supporting me from the very first ball until the last, it does give me a lot of belief. It gives me a lot of confidence. It kind of shows that all the hard work I’ve been putting in, it’s reaping its rewards.”
De Minaur went on to appear on centre court three times at the 2024 Australian Open and once on John Cain Arena before again bowing out in the fourth round of his home grand slam.
In the past, he’d been been credited as a good defensive player known for his speed, reaction and determination. But his slow slog to the top of the rankings has been littered with claims he didn’t have enough to mix it with the top guns – he wasn’t powerful enough, tough or aggressive enough.
“It’s something I’ve heard my whole career: I’m not big enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m a pusher, don’t have the firepower, never gonna be a top player,” de Minaur said.
“I hear this week in and week out, but the only thing that does is give me more fire and adds more gasoline to this engine that’s ready to do everything in its power to prove people wrong.
“Hey, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I know that I’m going to get the absolute most of myself.”
The 24-year-old dual Australia-Spain national absorbed the criticism like a sponge and squeezed out the angst on the practice court and in the gym where he sweated to become Alex the Aggressor.
The results have been seismic. De Minaur entered 2023 ranked world No.24. Come 2024 he is the first Australian to enter the elite top 10 club since his mentor Lleyton Hewitt in 2006 after beating three top 10 players at the 2024 season opening United Cup.
In the space of five days De Minaur upstaged world No.1 Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Taylor Fritz. Significantly Djokovic’s defeat ended the Serbian’s eye-watering 43-match, seven-year winning streak in Australia.
De Minaur’s hard work and victories have given him an express pass to the Australian Open centre court in his own right and gifted him kilograms of confidence.
“I do believe it’s been a big mental thing where I’ve told myself that I’ve got to show all the variety I’ve got, all the different shots I can create, the game styles I can play, and ultimately be aggressive,” de Minaur said.
“I knew in the past that maybe being a defender/counter-puncher wasn’t going to beat the top guys in the world. I had to improve in that aspect and develop a more aggressive playing style.
“I think that’s what’s been getting me the wins against the top players. Obviously it gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I can do this on the bigger stages, and I can take it to the top players in the world.”
Former world number ones Andre Agassi and John Newcombe believe in the more aggressive Alex. “It’s great to watch his competitiveness,” Agassi said before the start of the Australian Open. “He represents the quintessential Aussie spirit – his ability to defend and to turn that into offensive. He doesn’t have the overwhelming power to go through people but he uses his speed to create the space on the court to make that happen.”
Newcombe agrees that de Minaur could become a world top 10 fixture.
“The trend that Alex is on, I think he’s going to break into the top 10, probably not deep into the top 10 and I think he can get to around number seven or eight, which would be fantastic,” the seven-time grand slam champion said.
De Minaur credits his Spanish coach Adolfo Gutierrez as the magician behind his transformation. Gutierrez and de Minaur go way back to when the Aussie kid was a nine-year-old brat barrelling balls into the Spanish clay on the Mediterranean coast.
Born in Sydney’s southern suburb of Carss Park to Uruguayan father Anibal and Spanish mother Esther, De Minaur’s family moved to Alicante on Spain’s southeastern Costa Blanca when he was five. It was here he met Gutierrez, an Alicante native and former professional player who’s become a fixture in his life and who serves as de Minaur’s main on-tour trainer.
“Adolfo, he’s been like my second father,” he said. “We’ve been together now for 16 years. He took me in as a young kid to the point where my family would obviously struggle to pay him at times. He would do countless hours with me.
“It just means the world that we’ve been able to accomplish all this together. We’ve gone from me being a little brat at nine years old, to playing juniors, staying in hostels and motels all around Europe, to now making it to 10 in the world. It’s pretty surreal. I could never have done it without him. I think he deserves all the credit in the world. He doesn’t like the spotlight, but he deserves it all. I do owe it all to him.”
With career prize money totalling $US11.58M de Minaur can now afford to pay Gutierrez himself as well as buy residency into the Monaco tax haven, plus a vintage red 1967 Mustang and as much spaghetti bolognese from his favourite restaurants as a carb-crazed kid can load.
“I heard a pretty good quote: ‘How big would you dream if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ That’s been the motto. I’m pushing myself every day and hopefully the sky’s the limit,” de Minaur said.
Louise Evans is an award-winning journalist who has worked around Australia and the world as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and media executive for media platforms including The Sydney Morning Herald (eight years), The Australian (11 years) and Australian Associated Press (six years in London, Beijing and Sydney).
A women sports’ pioneer, Louise was the first female sports journalist employed by The Sydney Morning Herald and the first female sports editor at The Australian. Louise went on to work at six Olympic Games, six Commonwealth Games and numerous world sporting championships and grand slam tennis events.
Louise is the Founding Editor of AAP FactCheck, the Creator of #WISPAA – Women in Sport Photo Action Awards and national touring Exhibition and the author and producer of the Passage to Pusan book, documentary and exhibition.
In 2019 she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) Queen’s Honour for services to the media and sport and named an Australian Financial Review Top 100 Woman of Influence for services to the arts, culture and sport.
In 2020 she won a NSW Volunteer of the Year Award plus the NSW Government Community Service Award for her women-in-sport advocacy work.