Alex De Minaur looks a genuine star of the future, despite his Sydney International final loss. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)
Though a Saturday in Sydney that promised so much failed to bring two breakthrough titles, there’s a sense Australian tennis is on the verge of something big.
Both Alex De Minaur and Ash Barty found themselves on the wrong side of the post-match photos, forcing a defeated grin rather than beaming a victorious smile, but even before their Sydney International finals had been decided, they’d won over much of the tennis world.
Barty’s afternoon battle with the rejuvenated Angelique Kerber was far from a walkover, with the red-hot German a deserved 6-4, 6-4 winner.
The 21-year-old Aussie made more errors than she usually would, perhaps a by-product of big-stage nerves, but Barty more than looked like she belonged in a WTA final against one of the biggest names in the women’s game.
Ash Barty gave everything against Angeqliue Kerber, but was second best on the day. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
And, crucially, she knew it.
“I felt like it was a pretty good level,” Barty said. “To be honest, I felt like I probably played some of the better tennis that I have this week.
“And Angie is on fire. She’s such a competitor and makes you work so hard for each point.”
Ash Barty tweet: Amazing feeling making a final at home but too good tonight, @AngeliqueKerber. Looking forward to Melbourne!
De Minaur’s frustration will be more acute. Unlike Barty, he had a significant grip on his clash with Daniil Medvedev — the teenager completely dominated the first set, and was on top in the second before the Russian flicked a switch.
But on the night, what was even more impressive than De Minaur’s speed, touch or aggressive ground strokes was his heart. Seemingly down and out at 4-0 in the third and with Medvedev playing inspired tennis, he pulled a comeback from nowhere.
It was as if De Minaur had spent his formative years watching Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios receive extreme criticism for lacking that very trait, and was hell bent on showing Australia, at the first possible opportunity, he was something different.
De Minaur’s fightback against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev was a sight to behold. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
Perhaps not since Lleyton Hewitt has a young Aussie male chased down lost causes and turned around extreme deficits as impressively as De Minaur did on this night. That he eventually succumbed to an exhausting defeat was to the immense of credit of Medvedev, himself a young player of great potential.
He doesn’t have the serve, power or flair of Kyrgios, not by a long shot, but you get the feeling a match between the two of them, with the stakes raised, would be a hell of a sight.
And it’s not just Australia that was left impressed.
Andy Murray tweet: I wish I was as grown up as Alex de Minaur on the tennis court ☺️ great attitude! Love watching him play
The emergence and improvement of these two, along with Daria Gavrilova and Kyrgios, are a welcome tonic for Tennis Australia. Too often over the past few years has controversy and complaint reigned, but the conversation now seems to be turning back to the court.
An Australian Open beckons, and a golden opportunity looms for these young dynamos to turn a summer of promise into something historic.