The tennis player is a creature of habit. Pre-match rituals, tics when serving, management sometimes bordering on obsession with water bottles… Alex de Minaur is in the process of developing a routine that he would be inspired to keep throughout his career: start the season with a bang.

On January 2, 2023, the young Australian beat Rafael Nadal in the United Cup, a mixed team competition, in Sydney. A year and a day later, in the same tournament, but this time in Perth, he caught Novak Djokovic on his hunt.

Bringing down the Serbian with racket in hand is already an achievement in itself. But doing it in Australia, where Novak Djokovic remained on a streak started in 2018 of 43 consecutive victories – he was not authorized to play the Australian Open in 2022 due to his vaccination status – is still more. Never mind that the world number 1 seemed hampered by a right elbow injury. “I don’t want to spend too much time talking about it and take credit away from Minaur. He was very solid, as he always is,” conceded a handsome Djokovic after his defeat.

Building on his success over the man with ten crowns at the Australian Open, Alex de Minaur now hopes to steal the throne from him in Melbourne. His quest begins on Monday January 15 (in the night from Sunday to Monday, in France) against Milos Raonic.

Faced with the almost double meter of the Canadian giant, an untrained eye could be concerned about the young Australian, whose irremovable cap fails to hide a puny physique (1.83 m, 69 kg), far from the usual standards of the circuit. It is he, however, who will act like a scarecrow when it comes time to join the court. His victory over Djokovic, combined with those obtained over two other members of the top 10 – Alexander Zverev and Taylor Fritz – in Perth, in fact allowed Minaur to enter this closed circle in his turn (10th).

“I think I have the game to beat the best players in the world. But I am perhaps missing a few small details, a little confidence and conviction to do it in a Grand Slam,” he confided to Le Monde at the end of October, ahead of the Masters 1000 at Paris-Bercy. There is no doubt that his start to the season must have reassured him, as much as the Australian public, who have been waiting for one of their compatriots to lift the trophy in the men’s singles table since Mark Edmondson in 1976 (for the women, Ashleigh Barty won in 2022).

A “demon” very alone in Australia

Far from Oceania, it was on clay and in Spain that Alex de Minaur spent part of his childhood, forging a game made of blocks, slides and back and forth to return all the balls. The young man with a top-of-the-class look seems to have taken lessons at the “Nadal school” there: always friendly and available off the court, he transforms, as soon as he sets foot on the court, into a formidable competitor. The only differences with the Majorcan: the angry fist is accompanied by a bicep that is a little less protruding than that of its elder, and the “vamos!” » are replaced by “come on!” “.

The cries of encouragement from the “Demon”, as he is nicknamed, should still resonate on center court, the Rod Laver Arena, during this fortnight. “If there’s one place I’d like to have a big result, it’s here. “It’s every Australian’s dream,” he admits. It remains to be seen how long his run at Melbourne Park will last. He has never done better than a round of 16, a level reached in the last two editions.

“He has made progress, but if he wins a Grand Slam it would be the surprise of the century,” considers Arnaud Clément, finalist at the Australian Open in 2001. In the same way as the French at Roland-Garros, the Australians also have to manage a lot of pressure in Melbourne. » A pressure that Alex de Minaur must bear alone or almost in the face of the defections of his compatriots Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios. Announced as probable winners of a Major in their debut, the two men now mainly make headlines in the press for their escapades of all kinds – Tomic, for example, spending a night in prison in 2015 -, even if Kyrgios can boast of having reached the Wimbledon final in 2022.

“We are all different, and at different times in our careers,” brushes off the “Demon” when discussing the difficulties of Australian tennis. He prefers to focus on his game: “I think there are going to be a lot of opportunities in the future for certain players. It’s exciting, and I plan to be a part of it. »