Alex de Minaur, the talented Aussie 20-year-old showed why pundits believe he has a great future when he dispatched the seventh seed Kei Nishikori in their third-round meeting.
I want to be pushing these guys, I want to be pushing second weeks of Grand Slams and putting myself out there. Alex de Minaur
Unseeded and ranked 38, the youngster knocked out the former finalist 6-2 6-4 2-6 6-3 in just under three hours to collect his first victory over a top-10 player and will face in the last 16, a seemingly rejuvenated Grigor Dimitrov who defeated the Polish ‘lucky loser’ Kamil Majchrzak 7-5 7-6(8) 6-2.
De Minaur, one of the NextGen contingent, said “this is where I want to be” as he reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time having 12 months ago, suffered a third round five-set loss to Marin Cilic, and could face Roger Federer in the quarter-finals if he clears the Bulgarian hurdle.
“I had a little bit of a thriller last year versus Cilic and was two sets to love up. I was glad I could finally get the win,” a satisfied De Minaur said following his victory.
“Last year it was a bit of a heart-breaking match for me. It stung a lot, but you learn so much from it. You know that that’s your level.
“I have been in this situation before, and this is where I want to be,” he added. “This is where I feel like my game’s at.
“I want to be pushing these guys, I want to be pushing second weeks of Grand Slams and putting myself out there.”
De Minaur, kicked off the year by lifting his maiden ATP title in his native Sydney and reached the Australian Open’s last 32 before falling to eventual finalist Rafael Nadal.
He picked up a nagging groin injury which rather stalled any progress he could have made but he returned to the fray last month with a fluffy moustache to pick up his second title in Atlanta. The moustache was quickly discarded.
“It takes me like 17 years to grow that moustache. Maybe in a couple years’ time, but not any time soon,” De Minaur replied when asked if he would grow another.
For Nishikori, who had reached the last eight at all three previous Grand Slams this year, this loss was the earliest exit he has made since the 2017 Wimbledon.
“I made it tougher for myself to get each game. It was too many unforced errors. I wasn’t as consistent as I’m used to,” Nishikori admitted.
“Both things considered I think he played good and for me in certain moments I didn’t play well. But today he just played good.”
His NextGen colleague, the in-form Daniil Medvedev having reached three finals and picked up a Masters title, joined the Aussie in the fourth round with a 7-6(1) 6-4 7-6(7) 6-4 win over Feliciano Lopez but on the way incurred the wrath of the crowd when he made an obscene gesture.
The fifth-seeded Russian received a code violation when he allowed his frustrations to get the better of him by angrily snatching a towel from a ball-kid, throwing his racket and then surreptitiously raised his middle finger next to his head as he began to walk.
The incident was not seen by chair umpire Damien Dumusois but was caught on camera and shown on a video replay inside the Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“It was tough. I was in the heat of the moment and started losing the momentum. I don’t really remember but I paid for it the whole match after,” Medvedev, who was roundly booed by supporters in his post-match interview, said.
He then addressed the crowd, adding: “I want all of you to know, when you sleep tonight, I won because of you. The energy you gave. The more you do this, the more I win”.
Medvedev later apologized to the Spaniard and his coach insisting his meltdown was in no way related to his opponent.
In the fourth-round Medvedev faces German qualifier Dominik Koepfer who beat the 17th seed from Georgia, Nikoloz Basilashvilli 6-3 7-6(5) 4-6 6-1 and it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts. Medvedev himself wasn’t sure. “What I can say is that I’m working on myself and hopefully I will be better next time,” he said.
Meanwhile two of the Big Three who de Minaur and Medvedev hope to replace at the top of the game, successfully negotiated their way into the last 16.
Novak Djokovic, the defending champion and top seed, who picked up a minor shoulder injury in his previous match, showed little sign that it was giving him problems as he strolled past Denis Kudla of the US 6-3 6-4 6-2.
“It’s almost pain-free. Has a little bit of pain, but I’m really pleased with the way it went,” Djokovic said. “Today the situation was much, much better than the last match, so we’ll see tomorrow.”
Djokovic, who has won four of the past five Grand Slam events and 16 overall, advanced to a fourth-round meeting with three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka after the Swiss staved off a strong challenge from the Italian Paolo Lorenzi 6-4 7-6(9) 7-6(4). The two haven’t met since Wawrinka, the 23rd seed, beat Djokovic in the 2016 US Open final.
The Djokovic injury, however, was the main topic of conversation during the post-match press conference where he was pressed to reveal details of the treatment he has been given.
“Forgive me, I’m not going to talk about it,” Djokovic said. “I would appreciate if you respect me not talking about it in details.
“Please understand me. I’m very glad with the way it went. I am able to play. That for me is a huge blessing today because it was probably the complete opposite two days ago.
“I did a lot of things in the last few days to be able to play.”
Djokovic was captured on video having a talk with a heckler during his pre-match practice session Friday afternoon, saying, “I’ll come find you. I’ll find you after. Trust me, I’ll find you.”
Asked about the confrontation which he described as a “little chat”, the Serbian said he would locate the heckler, “To have a drink. I liked the guy. I’m going to buy him a drink.”
As to exactly what was said, Djokovic wouldn’t reveal declaring it was between drinking buddies but it had helped him in defeating Kudla.
“We’ll keep it between us. But he definitely helped me. He doesn’t even know, but he did help me,” Djokovic said.
“I’m not going to talk about it. I think he did me a favour. Even maybe he didn’t want to do me a favour, he did me a favour, big favour.”
In other results to complete the last 16 in the top half of the draw, Roger Federer beat Britain’s No.2 Dan Evans 6-2 6-2 6-1 and David Goffin outlasted Pablo Carreno Busta 7-6(5) 7-6(9) 7-5