Infotainment Factory: 'He's almost Spanish': Nadal and De Minaur set for bumper clash

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Thursday, 17 January 2019

'He's almost Spanish': Nadal and De Minaur set for bumper clash


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“He’s almost a Spanish, too,” chirped Rafael Nadal, smiling as he discussed Alex De Minaur during Wednesday night’s happy chat with John McEnroe on Rod Laver Arena. Perhaps it was then that the man from Majorca sensed he was also on slightly dangerous ground.

“No - I’m joking, no,’’ quipped Rafa, in a swift back-pedal good-naturedly approved by the late-night crowd. To be clear: Sydney-born De Minaur considers himself Australian, and Australians regard De Minaur as the type of competitor of whom they can be proud.

Yes, the 19-year-old product of a Spanish mother and Uruguayan father has spent more of his life in Spain than in Australia. But, after a testing four-hour five-setter against Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen, the warrior who has adopted the NSW State-of-Origin team’s “Blue Wall” mantra painted a colourful picture for the 17-time major winner of exactly where his allegiances lie.

“My heart is Australian and I bleed green and gold,’’ De Minaur replied when told of Nadal’s words in Nine’s studio in the early hours of Thursday morning. “I’ve always felt Australian and I’m loving playing in front of my home crowd. I can’t wait to go out there on Rod Laver and hopefully play some good tennis and get the crowd fired up.’’

De Minaur and Nadal

He will need as much support as he can muster. But if Nadal is one of the greatest competitors in tennis history, then a big part of what a Tomic/Kyrgios-weary Australian public admires about the nation’s new top-ranked man is his unyielding determination to run down every ball, and wear down through sheer will opponents he may not be able to hit off the court.

Indeed, a few days ago, we put to De Minaur what might have been a silly question. Fancy asking this gritty mini-Lleyton if he had ever walked off after a match and thought he could have tried a little harder.

But, well, you never know. There might have been an unforgivable just-99 per cent contest, somewhere. Once.

Or perhaps not.

Alex de Minaur

“Every time you step out there is an opportunity for you to just give 150 per cent,’’ De Minaur said. “And every time I step out on court that’s the bare minimum.’’

You can see it, sense it, feel almost compelled to applaud it, as affection grows for a young man on a seven-match winning streak who has his Davis Cup playing number - 109 - tattooed on his chest and recently obtained his driver’s licence, but while still so baby-faced he often gets asked for ID when he goes out.

Between matches, though, he tends to stay in, having usually expended so much energy on the court that, otherwise, the focus must be on rest and recovery. The lad known as "Demon" is learning as he goes in every respect - including scheduling, and about how best to manage the demands on a body of which so much is asked.

There were lessons, too, in the straight sets loss to top-seeded Nadal in the third round at 2018 Wimbledon, when De Minaur was ranked 80th, but was also the kid being carried onwards and upwards by perhaps the fastest wheels in the game. At least, he says, he now knows what to expect.

Rafael Nadal

“He’s got this presence on the court that no-one can take away from him and he thoroughly deserves,’’ De Minaur says of a champion he likens to both a monarch and a deity back in Spain. “And it’s just what he brings every single day: that physicality, that intensity, and just never giving up.’’

Thus, kindred spirits will collide and, coincidentally, Nadal was also asked after the second leg of what he hopes will be an Aussie-killing treble (having already eliminated unseeded duo James Duckworth and Matt Ebden), whether he ever looked at other players and asked why their effort was lacking in comparison.

Nadal’s diplomatic answer was that everyone is trying, working hard and wanting to win, and therefore he had no intention of encouraging any potential conquerors further.

De Minaur, certainly, needs no such advice or instruction. And that unyielding desire to be respected in the locker-room as “the kid that fights to the end” is what is endearing this young Australian to an appreciative home crowd, as well.

“He’s almost a Spanish, too,” chirped Rafael Nadal, smiling as he discussed Alex De Minaur during Wednesday night’s happy chat with John McEnroe on Rod Laver Arena. Perhaps it was then that the man from Majorca sensed he was also on slightly dangerous ground.

“No - I’m joking, no,’’ quipped Rafa, in a swift back-pedal good-naturedly approved by the late-night crowd. To be clear: Sydney-born De Minaur considers himself Australian, and Australians regard De Minaur as the type of competitor of whom they can be proud.

Yes, the 19-year-old product of a Spanish mother and Uruguayan father has spent more of his life in Spain than in Australia. But, after a testing four-hour five-setter against Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen, the warrior who has adopted the NSW State-of-Origin team’s “Blue Wall” mantra painted a colourful picture for the 17-time major winner of exactly where his allegiances lie.

“My heart is Australian and I bleed green and gold,’’ De Minaur replied when told of Nadal’s words in Nine’s studio in the early hours of Thursday morning. “I’ve always felt Australian and I’m loving playing in front of my home crowd. I can’t wait to go out there on Rod Laver and hopefully play some good tennis and get the crowd fired up.’’

De Minaur and Nadal

He will need as much support as he can muster. But if Nadal is one of the greatest competitors in tennis history, then a big part of what a Tomic/Kyrgios-weary Australian public admires about the nation’s new top-ranked man is his unyielding determination to run down every ball, and wear down through sheer will opponents he may not be able to hit off the court.

Indeed, a few days ago, we put to De Minaur what might have been a silly question. Fancy asking this gritty mini-Lleyton if he had ever walked off after a match and thought he could have tried a little harder.

But, well, you never know. There might have been an unforgivable just-99 per cent contest, somewhere. Once.

Or perhaps not.

Alex de Minaur

“Every time you step out there is an opportunity for you to just give 150 per cent,’’ De Minaur said. “And every time I step out on court that’s the bare minimum.’’

You can see it, sense it, feel almost compelled to applaud it, as affection grows for a young man on a seven-match winning streak who has his Davis Cup playing number - 109 - tattooed on his chest and recently obtained his driver’s licence, but while still so baby-faced he often gets asked for ID when he goes out.

Between matches, though, he tends to stay in, having usually expended so much energy on the court that, otherwise, the focus must be on rest and recovery. The lad known as "Demon" is learning as he goes in every respect - including scheduling, and about how best to manage the demands on a body of which so much is asked.

There were lessons, too, in the straight sets loss to top-seeded Nadal in the third round at 2018 Wimbledon, when De Minaur was ranked 80th, but was also the kid being carried onwards and upwards by perhaps the fastest wheels in the game. At least, he says, he now knows what to expect.

Rafael Nadal

“He’s got this presence on the court that no-one can take away from him and he thoroughly deserves,’’ De Minaur says of a champion he likens to both a monarch and a deity back in Spain. “And it’s just what he brings every single day: that physicality, that intensity, and just never giving up.’’

Thus, kindred spirits will collide and, coincidentally, Nadal was also asked after the second leg of what he hopes will be an Aussie-killing treble (having already eliminated unseeded duo James Duckworth and Matt Ebden), whether he ever looked at other players and asked why their effort was lacking in comparison.

Nadal’s diplomatic answer was that everyone is trying, working hard and wanting to win, and therefore he had no intention of encouraging any potential conquerors further.

De Minaur, certainly, needs no such advice or instruction. And that unyielding desire to be respected in the locker-room as “the kid that fights to the end” is what is endearing this young Australian to an appreciative home crowd, as well.

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