Will the real Alex de Minaur stand up?
Not the excellent fighter who so often falls short against the best – but the super-charged bantamweight who seems to be imbued with extraordinary resolve and a heavyweight punch every time he puts on the green and l gold of his country.
Yes, even the Australian tennis No. 1 accepts that he seems to become a different athlete when he is in the Davis Cup zone.
Following his victory over Dutch number one Botic van de Zandschulp in Malaga – his ninth victory in his last 10 Davis Cup singles that propelled Australia to the semi-finals on Friday – he was asked how he would describe this transformation from superman.
“I think what I need to take to the next level on the ATP Tour is to bring this Alex on more often,” he smiled.
“But there is something special about representing your country, playing for Australia and being part of this team.
“It has always been a dream of mine and I will always do everything in my power to try to deliver for my country, my teammates and my captain.
“It’s pride, it’s passion and it’s a lot of heart.”
De Minaur will definitely need more of those magic ingredients when he takes on an old Croatian foe, Marin Cilic, in Friday’s (Saturday AEDT) semi-final.
Former US Open champion Cilic, still energized at 34, was buoyant after an epic three-set victory over Pablo Carreno Busta knocked out hosts Spain in Wednesday’s quarter-final.
He is also armed with the memory of an epic five-set victory over de Minaur at the 2018 edition of Flushing Meadows.
And more importantly, he also held off a backline move from the Sydneysider to earn a fabulous duel in last year’s Davis Cup that took the Croatians to a group-tying victory.
This performance, after de Minaur was vastly passed, was hailed by his team captain, Lleyton Hewitt, even in defeat, as one of his key lieutenant’s best performances.
De Minaur hasn’t lost a single in the Davis Cup since, unbeaten in six games, but he will need to do better against Cilic this year if he is to guide Australia to their first final since 2003, when they won the title for the last time against Spain in Melbourne.
For Croatia will once again be favorites for the tie, fielding perhaps the strongest side in sight in Malaga with Cilic ranked 17th in the world, a refreshed Borna Coric at No.26 and their Olympic doubles champion squad of Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic. .
So it will take another monumental effort from Jordan Thompson, a three-hour winner over Tallon Griekspoor on Tuesday, against Coric, who is back to his best after shoulder surgery.
And it could all come down to a classic doubles potential between Australia’s formidable combination of Wimbledon champions Matt Ebden and Max Purcell and Mektic and Pavic, who won the title at the All England Club the year before.
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