Alex de Minaur, at 19, Is Still Learning

Alex de Minaur, at 19, Is Still Learning

Alex de Minaur, 19, of Australia is the second youngest in the ATP’s top 100. Since turning pro in 2015, he has quickly established himself as a player with intense focus and fight. This month he unseated Nick Kyrgios as Australia’s top tennis player. He will play at the Paris Masters, which starts on Friday. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Tell me how just three years after turning pro, you became Australia’s top tennis player.

I never thought becoming No. 1 in Australia would happen, especially not this soon. It’s been an incredible year. I think that everything has been going my way. There’s always challenges and bumps along the way. It’s never really smooth sailing. You have to learn from your mistakes every year that you are on tour. You need to learn new things. I think I’ve done that really well. I don’t make the same mistakes over again. In a way nothing has changed. I’m still the same, you know? I just get to live this amazing life and do the thing that I love. But I’m just the same kid.

How are you handling turning pro at such a young age?

This is only my second year on tour. I slowly started to feel like I belong, and that’s really important. Once you feel like you belong there, you start believing in yourself and your level. Then you are able to compete among the best of them. It’s funny, each time you come back to a tournament you start to feel more and more welcome. It gets familiar. That was one of the biggest things that’s helped me. The one match that stands out for me was beating Milos Raonic at the Brisbane International in January.

That gave me a real big confidence and the belief that I could beat these guys week in and week out. I was able to ride that wave of confidence all through to the summer.

Do other players treat you differently because of your age?

It all works out by the results and the way you play on the court. You sort of start to slowly earn more respect from the players. You have to get used to being there and know that you belong. Mentally, that’s one of the hardest parts.

Any advice to young players thinking of turning pro?

If you are at that point, at the end of the day the level of play is pretty much there. A lot of it is believing in yourself. That’s something I found out in my experience. Then you have to back it up week after week.

That’s really important because the first couple of years on tour you feel like you have some really good weeks. But then you go through stages where it’s tough to back it up. You need to mentally be able to back up good tennis week after week. Confidence and consistency are really important.

Is that something you work on with your mental coach?

Yes. I’ve worked with him for a year and a half, and the differences are incredible. I just feel mentally stronger. One of most important things I’ve learned from him is not to think too far ahead — maybe one or two points at a time. If you just focus on that, you don’t worry about what’s in the future or what’s in the past. I’ve worked that into my game along with just fighting to the end.

You also have the former world No. 1 tennis player Lleyton Hewitt in your corner. What’s he teaching you?

Well, obviously there’s not a lot of people with more experience than he has. He’s lived everything that could possibly happen on a tennis court. When I’m around him I act like a sponge and soak up as much information and stuff that he tells me because he’s been through it.

He’s also helped me with believing in myself and that I have that level of tennis to be playing with these guys.

Are you feeling the pressure as being Australia’s No. 1 tennis player?

At this stage, I’m just enjoying it. This whole year has been full of moments that I’m going to cherish for a very long time. It’s another one of those moments. I never thought it was possible to be able to start the year where I did and be where I am right now. I’m a little bit star struck.

But at the same time nothing much changes. You keep playing week in and week out, point after point. One key thing is being able to disconnect when you are off the court. You don’t have much free time on the tour. You’re thinking about tennis 24/7, whether it’s about your opponent or your match or whatever is coming up next. Whenever you get the chance to disconnect, you need to do it. Your mind really needs it. You have to switch off for a day, regain some energy and refresh and be able to come back stronger.

You just unseated Kyrgios, Australia’s former No. 1 with a bit of a reputation for being difficult on and off the court. Do you feel that you have to differentiate from him in any way?

Everyone is their own person. I just worry about myself and surround myself with good people who keep me grounded and focused on what matters. Whenever I have played with Nick, he’s helped me out. He’s obviously got some incredible talent. But we are different players. We lead different lives.

When it comes to the game, Nick has some serious firepower. I’m not the strongest guy out there, so I rely on different parts of my game. One of those is movement and fighting for every point.

My strengths are different than his. He could hit a winner off anything. I have to work for the point way more. Growing up not being the biggest guy around, you learn different ways of playing tennis. I’ve learned to adapt.

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