Australian tennis has a rich heritage in both the men’s and the women’s game, with some of the greatest players of all time hailing from ‘down under’. But whilst Ashleigh Barty is now leading the charge for Australian women’s tennis, holding the French Open title and the world #1 ranking, no Australian man has won a Grand Slam title since Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 2001. However, in Alex de Minaur and Nick Kyrgios, Australia may have two men ready to change that.
Since turning professional in 2015, De Minaur has shown that he is able to stay calm and composed on court even when the match is not going his way. He has shown a commendable willingness to work hard, both on his game and his mentality, and he has begun to reap the rewards for that work ethic. Yes, de Minaur has not yet beaten either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal (he has not yet played Novak Djokovic), but he did win three ATP titles in 2019, in Sydney, Atlanta and Zhuhai.
His ability to ally great passion and fighting spirit with poise have encouraged many to believe that he could reach the pinnacle of tennis by winning a Grand Slam title. That he is mentored by none other than Hewitt, who works with de Minaur alongside his regular coach Adolfo Gutierrez, will also surely help his cause. Indeed, for de Minaur it is a boyhood dream to have Hewitt in his corner.
“Hewitt has always been an idol,” De Minaur said. “I always looked up to him growing up. For him to now be in my corner and helping me out as a mentor, really getting me to believe I belong here where I am and that I have got the level, is just incredible”. Todd Woodbridge, himself a winner of 16 Majors in doubles, believes De Minaur is just two years away from securing his first Grand Slam. However, he was less effusive about the chances of the Australian #2 Kyrgios.
“That’s not going to happen next year because physically [Kyrgios] has to do a lot more work to be able to go seven matches,” Woodbridge said. “You’ve got to win seven matches – best of five sets and he keeps breaking down. It goes two ways; I think the [physicality] of the body goes to the mind and they work together. He hasn’t got that right now.”
There is no doubt that Kyrgios has talent. The Australian’s serve can be devastating, both for its power and its accuracy, and he can also do real damage off the ground. That raw ability has taken Kyrgios to some famous victories, with the 25-year-old having notched wins over Nadal, including in the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2014, Federer and Djokovic, who he has beaten in both of their meetings albeit whilst the Serbian was carrying a serious elbow injury.
But his talent has been overshadowed by his propensity to engage in ugly confrontations and tantrums on the court. He also has a worrying record with injuries. That has led many to agree with Woodbridge that Kyrgios lacks the mental and physical strength required to win a Grand Slam title. Notably, when Kyrgios is behind in matches, he has a concerning tendency to throw in the towel. That lack of fighting spirit, a quality de Minaur has in abundance, may well prove to be the difference between the two men.
Of course, Kyrgios has won three more ATP titles than his compatriot and claimed more headline wins, and indeed headlines thanks to his blending of charisma and controversy. Any emotion that Kyrgios experiences on court, the spectator feels with him. That can be box office. But his career has arguably stalled. For all that he remains one of the more entertaining players to watch in the men’s game, he currently finds himself ranked 40th in the world, having achieved his career-high ranking of world #13 nearly four years ago in October, 2016.
That lack of progress is made all the more frustrating for his supporters and for Tennis Australia by his obvious talent. Talent that arguably exceeds that possessed by de Minaur, who for all his determination and grit currently lacks a match-winning weapon such as the Kyrgios serve. But it is still surely the humble and focused de Minaur who is currently on the path towards Major glory. Which, one suspects, may well provide Kyrgios with food for thought.
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