MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Local favourite Alex de Minaur beat Pablo Andujar 6-4 6-4 6-2 on the back of some scintillating tennis at the Rod Laver Arena on Saturday to move into the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career.
De Minaur’s victory livened up a sombre day for the host country at Melbourne Park after Australia’s Christopher O’Connell and Maddison Inglis had been knocked out.
With Australian greats Rod Laver and Lleyton Hewitt in attendance, the 22-year-old De Minaur mixed his trademark defensive baseline strategy with plenty of approach shots at the net to advance in a little over two hours.
“Pretty exciting to play here on Rod Laver Arena at 7:00 PM in front of Rod Laver himself. I’ve got the win, so what more can I ask for,” De Minaur said in an on-court interview after his second win on the main showcourt at the tournament.
“It’s definitely not Sydney yet … but I love playing here. The atmosphere is electric, there’s no place I’d rather be. I’m in my home, so I’m doing what I love, I’m living the dream,” added the 22-year-old who was born in Sydney.
The pair traded breaks in the opening two games of the match but 32nd seed De Minaur capitalised on another break point at 3-3 with a powerful forehand winner that brought the local fans to their feet and spurred him on to serve out the set.
The contrasting playing styles made for some long and intense rallies with the 35-year-old claycourt specialist Andujar up against the lively De Minaur, who was always on the move.
But the Australian was patient, wearing Andujar down and pouncing on opportunities to approach the net where he won 18 points in the match.
De Minaur broke at 1-1 in the second and as his confidence grew so did the number of approach shots, while a chase-down baseline lob at 5-3 also had Andujar applauding his tenacity.
While the vociferous crowd has been firmly behind the local hopes this year they did applaud Andujar when, at 5-2 down in the third, he hit a fierce winner down the line, with the Spaniard giving a wry smile as he soaked up the applause.
Andujar had saved set points in the first two sets but after a double break in the third, De Minaur made no mistake when serving for the match, firing down two aces before the Spaniard lost the contest with an unforced error.
The win sets up a last-16 clash with 11th seed Jannik Sinner, who beat Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel in four sets.
“A lot of firepower, he’s a hell of a player,” De Minaur said of the Italian. “I’m just looking forward to it, another opportunity to come out here and do what I love.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)