And he was run ragged, pushed back and overwhelmed. Over and over and over again.
De Minaur departs the Open in the round of 16 for the second straight year – and again without winning a set. It always looked a tall order for him to become the host nation’s first men’s quarter-finalist since Nick Kyrgios in 2015.
Bernard Tomic, Kyrgios (twice), and de Minaur all made it to the fourth round in the years following without going any further.
De Minaur made short work of his three far-more-modest opponents last week, but it was his defeats of two of the sport’s biggest stars, Nadal and Daniil Medvedev, since November that buoyed hopes pre-match he could cause a titanic upset against Djokovic.
For all the 23-year-old’s lion-hearted ways, he simply struggled to win cheap points – or many points at all – against the might of Djokovic, who won double as many points whenever an extended rally ensued.
Even the mentally tough de Minaur will take some time to recover from this setback, after believing he had made ground on the tour’s pacesetters. That still might be accurate, but Djokovic, as this night proved beyond doubt, is on a planet of his own.
The writing was on the wall when de Minaur struggled through his second service game to tie the opening set at two-all. He did so by winning a series of gruelling baseline exchanges, as Djokovic made him work overtime for everything. That was always going to be tough to replicate all night.
The No.22 seed won only three of the next 19 games, in what was nothing short of a massacre.
It was not for a lack of trying – de Minaur audibly urged himself on and optimistically skipped to collect a ball after saving a break point in the second game of the second set, but it was a brief reprieve. Two points later, Djokovic pounded a forehand into the corner that his young rival could not keep in the court.
The last Australian to face Djokovic at the Australian Open, Lleyton Hewitt, was in de Minaur’s corner as usual, and summed up the Serbian superstar’s opening set in one word: “Faultless.”
Hewitt could have said the same thing at match’s end, and in this form, there is an inevitability about how this grand slam will end.
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