Alex De Minaur is ready to carry Australian hopes on his shoulders when he takes on Rafael Nadal in the third round in Melbourne.
The new kid on the block 12 months ago after a brilliant run to the final of the ATP Tour event in Sydney, the 19-year-old found himself going into his home grand slam this time as the Australian number one.
He has already established a reputation as one of the fittest and fiercest competitors on tour and needed to show both those qualities in a five-set victory over Henri Laaksonen, quelling the Swiss qualifier’s fightback to win 6-4 6-2 6-7 (7) 4-6 6-3 after holding a match point in the third set.
De Minaur only arrived in Melbourne on Sunday after going one better and winning his maiden ATP title in Sydney, but he insisted he will be ready come Friday.
“The body’s feeling good,” he said. “I’m still young. I can’t complain. I’m doing what I love. I’m going to have a nice relaxed day tomorrow. I’ll be ready for my next round and really excited.”
De Minaur will certainly need all his fighting spirit against the ultimate warrior in Nadal.
As the son of a Uruguayan father and Spanish mother who has spent much of his life in Spain, De Minaur grew up watching Nadal’s remarkable feats.
The teenager said: “Rafa is pretty much like the king in Spain. He’s done so many amazing things for the sport. He’s had that many achievements. It’s pretty incredible. It’s going to be fun for me to get out on court and be able to test where I am.
“I think this is what you play for: to play the biggest guys and the best guys at the top of their level on the biggest stages.”
De Minaur already has experience of playing Nadal having met him at the same stage of Wimbledon, where he won only seven games.
“I’ve already stepped out on court and played him, so that whole experience of playing Rafa, that’s not new to me any more,” he said. “So hopefully this time around I can go a bit more relaxed, just focus on myself, try to play some good tennis.”
Nadal looked sharper than he had in the first round in beating Australian Matt Ebden 6-3 6-2 6-2 to record his 57th Australian Open win, putting him third on the all-time men’s list behind Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
He has been aware of De Minaur’s potential for a while, saying: “Since a couple of years ago we know that we have a good player coming. I think he has improved a lot during the last three years.
“Today he is one of the best players of the world. That’s the real thing. He’s young, very young. He is winning a lot of matches. It’s going to be a tough one.”
Federer was given a good workout by Britain’s Dan Evans before coming through 7-6 (5) 7-6 (3) 6-3 and next faces Taylor Fritz, who upset Gael Monfils 6-3 6-7 (8) 7-6 (6) 7-6 (5).
Fritz was not the only young American to make waves at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, with 20-year-old Frances Tiafoe claiming the biggest scalp of the tournament so far with a 4-6 6-4 6-4 7-5 victory over fifth seed and Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson.
Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, was introduced to tennis at a centre in Maryland where his father worked as the head of maintenance.
He is already in the top 40, and he said: “Those are the matches I feel like I’m dangerous. I’m starting to feel more comfortable finishing the match, not just playing a match. I’m definitely going to remember this one.”
Roberto Bautista Agut continued to do things the hard way after his epic win over Andy Murray, again winning the first two sets before coming through in five against John Millman.
There were also wins for Marin Cilic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych and Karen Khachanov.