The Demon hour is upon us. Australia’s Alex de Minaur showed off his fighting spirit again on Friday afternoon at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers, rallying from a break down in both sets to earn a spirited 7-6(7), 7-5 victory over No. 2 seed and former champion Daniil Medvedev.
A day after coming from 1-5 down in the first set en route to defeating No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz, de Minaur was forced to dig deep against Medvedev, whom he had defeated for the first time in five meetings last fall at the indoor ATP Masters 1000 event in Paris. After committing some untimely unforced errors to give up an early break in the sixth game, de Minaur began to settle into more of the lengthy baseline exchanges. Trailing 2-5, the Australian adjusted his court positioning and rushed to the net in an attempt to take time away from Medvedev, who was standing way behind the baseline.
When trailing in a match, “I just tell myself that I’m going to fight till the end, until the last point, no matter what the score is, and I think that’s a big virtue,” de Minaur, who was most proud of his level-headed mental state against Medvedev, told reporters after the match. “I learned it from a young age to always compete no matter what the score is, and it gets to the point where the opponents know that as well … and they’re going to have to beat me. I’m not going to give up at any stage. At those stages, I managed to put the ball in the court, play a couple good points, and then, all of a sudden, I got my chance and was able to turn that around.”
Struggling to hit through de Minaur, who was making him consistently work for rallies that lasted more than 15 shots, Medvedev began to commit a few loose errors when serving for the set at 5-3 and leading 5-1 in the tiebreak. The World No. 3 had a total of three set points, mistiming a return at 6-4, hitting a double fault at 6-5 and missing a backhand pass on the third at 7-6. De Minaur, to his credit, converted his first set point opportunity when a Medvedev backhand sailed long.
“With Alex, I feel like the key is to sometimes kind of surprise him, because, otherwise, he’s always on the ball — kind of like me, to be honest — and so you have to surprise him,” Medvedev said in his post-match press conference. “You have to suddenly make a strong shot, suddenly put the ball where he doesn’t expect it. But with these balls, it doesn’t matter. Even if he doesn’t expect it, the ball goes so slow that he has time to stop, run, stop, run, and then still be on the ball.”
The second set followed a similar pattern, with Medvedev gaining the upper hand early in the rallies and de Minaur rallying from a break down twice. Waiting for de Minaur to make errors that wouldn’t come, Medvedev struggled to find his rhythm in his service games, making 53 per cent (46/87) of his first serves and winning just 53 per cent (46/87) of the points behind his first delivery. The former champion hit his seventh double fault on match point to hand the victory on a silver platter to the Australian after two hours and three minutes.
While Medvedev thought that the playing conditions this week in Toronto made the balls move slower through the court, de Minaur, who played in hotter and more humid conditions in Los Cabos last week, thinks the balls have been flying off his racquet and the court is actually moving faster. “I’ve been able to, ultimately stay in the tournament long enough that I’ve been able to feel a lot better, and for me, today was by far my best match,” said the Australian, who has also scored wins over No. 11 seed Cameron Norrie and Canadian wild card Gabriel Diallo this week. “I felt really confident with the ball on the strings and being able to be aggressive.”
For de Minaur, who is projected to reach a career-high ranking of No. 14 in the world on Monday, his fourth Top-5 win is an indication that he has been trending in a positive direction. “It’s no secret that I haven’t really been content where I am, and I’m always trying to find my way to push more,” de Minaur said. “I’ve always felt that I’ve got the level to break into that Top 10. But it probably wasn’t until end of last year where I was able to get my first win against a top 5, which was Daniil in Paris, that I really was able to have that breakthrough moment of really believing in myself.” From that moment onwards, “I’ve had a great year. I’ve wanted to do well in these tournaments, and it’s a great feeling to be in the semifinals here.”
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In his maiden ATP Masters 1000 semifinal, de Minaur will face Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who followed up his victories over No. 13 seed Alexander Zverev and No. 4 seed Casper Ruud with a dominant straight-sets victory over American Mackenzie McDonald earlier in the day. Davidovich Fokina and de Minaur grew up playing each other on the junior circuit, and the Spaniard has come out on top in three of their four meetings on the professional tour (including ITF events).
“It’s a huge opportunity, but I think we’ve both shown that we kind of deserve to be here by the opponents we’ve beaten,” de Minaur said. “So it shows that we’re both playing some great tennis. We’re both playing some confident tennis. [I’ll] get ready for his firepower. He’s got great hands as well. So it should be a great match.”