Alex ‘The Demon’ De Minaur defeated Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet in Sunday’s final of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in Antwerp, denying the Frenchman the title at his third time of asking.
It's been an interesting new format, I didn't mind it. It was fun and it definitely helped me out a lot to get some on-court time, and to get used to this court in the following week. But, I'm very happy to come out here and play some good tennis. Alex De Minaur
In his UTS debut, De Minaur was just short of perfect, as he easily dismissed Dan Evans and Pablo Andujar without dropping a quarter en route to the final, while Gasquet was tested against Taylor Fritz and barely escaped their sudden-death thriller.
In the action-packed 3-days of UTS3, debutants De Minaur, Fritz and Andujar took a while to adapt to the unique format and the best use of the various play cards on offer.
The Demon got the hang of it the quickest, relentlessly running through Evans and Andujar without dropping a single quarter on Friday to reach the final round against Gasquet and, on Sunday, the Aussie dominated the Virtuoso, 3-1: 24-9, 15-14, 17-16, 19-11 in the event’s final.
“I’m hoping [the lightning bolt trophy] gives me super powers,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll find somewhere in my house for it.”
The first two quarters were all about De Minaur as he moved the ball effortlessly from corner to corner, and finished points off aggressively at the net.
“It’s definitely a good start,” De Minaur said. “Got to give special kudos to my brother [Daniel) for great coaching tips.
“We played in the US Open [Gasquet won in four sets] not too long ago, we kind of know how each other plays.”
The World No 29 was nearly invincible and was well on his way to posting another flawless scoreline but Gasquet is an expert at this unusual format, and had managed to survive an epic sudden-death thriller against Fritz the previous day, and was not ready to hand over the win.
Gasquet admitted he had started too slowly: “I felt really bad, I lost a little bit of confidence. I have to move better, hit stronger, serve better,” he said. “If I don’t, I won’t win.”
De Minaur was so sharp he was even reacting to net cord serves with ease but Gasquet made him work much harder in the second quarter.
The winner x 2 card was used well by Gasquet as he led 13-12. but at 13-13, De Minaur used his card to make The Virtuoso win in three shots on the Gasquet serve, and won one of them.
With 20 seconds to go, the Aussie served on what turned out to be the final point and a forehand down the line sealed the second quarter.
“I kind of was running out of time and I kind of backed myself to run three balls down,” De Minaur said, of the decision to use the card on Gasquet’s serve. “The first one got away from me but it gave me a crucial point on my serve.”
“I played better,” said Gasquet, “I didn’t miss much, but he doesn’t miss, he plays very fast. I was very close to winning but he played better. I think I can still do it.”
The Virtuoso looked in big trouble when he trailed 5-1 in Q3 but back to back points with his next point counts double UTS card pulled him level.
Gasquet suddenly started going for broke, but an ace gave De Minaur match point at 16-15, which the Frenchman saved with a backhand volley winner and then won the final point to stay alive.
“It was a tough one, but I tried to fight a lot,” he said. “He made me run, I tried to go to the net and I did it.
Now I need to be more offensive. It was a good one.”
The World No 54 seemed to be finding his groove but De Minaur was unruffled at losing both his match point and the quarter, and he raced off to a 11-3 lead in Q4.
Gasquet exhausted all his strategies and quickly ran out of ideas on how to break The Demon down.
Using his ‘X3 Winner’ card, De Minaur used his wheels to reach Gasquet’s well-struck drop volley and pulled off an explosive forehand passing shot to go up 15-3, leaving The Virtuoso in the dust.
Serving brilliantly, with phenomenal movement, De Minaur came up with big shots when he needed them to clinch the title and deny Gasquet, who was beaten in the semi-finals of both UTS1 and UTS2.
After 40 minutes of impressive shot-making the 21-year old lifted the lightning bolt, the youngest UTS champion thus far.
These two competitors will meet again in just a couple days on the same courts in Antwerp, without speciality cards and timed quarters, at next week’s European Open.
“It’s been an interesting new format, I didn’t mind it,” De Minaur said following his victory. “It was fun and it definitely helped me out a lot to get some on-court time, and to get used to this court in the following week.
“But, I’m very happy to come out here and play some good tennis.”
As for Gasquet, he said: “He was just better than me to be honest. He doesn’t miss, he’s serving well.
“I did a lot of effort in the third but in the fourth I couldn’t. He was too strong today. He plays top 10. I know he’s not top 10 but he will be soon.”