‘The perfect student’: De Minaur’s rise from Carss Park to a grand slam quarter-final

Tennis coach Kerry Dock would never teach kids below the age of four but when he saw a three-and-a-half year-old Alex De Minaur in Carss Park in Sydney's south, he knew he had to make an exception.

In his third lesson, the toddler was serving over the net from the baseline. By the age of six, De Minaur was rallying against Dock and, by the age of 10, he nearly beat Dock in a three-set match. It's now of no surprise to Dock that a 21-year-old De Minaur is now in the quarter-finals of the US Open.

Alex de Minaur is through to his first grand slam quarter-final.Credit:AP

"I normally don't take kids that young but he was already hitting the wall on the garage every day for three hours," Dock said. "He would have been the youngest ever. Alex was the perfect student."

De Minaur is the last remaining Australian in the US Open after powering his way past Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets on Tuesday morning to set the stage for a quarter-final clash against the new tournament favourite, Dominic Thiem.

De Minaur's 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over the unseeded Pospisil in the fourth round elevated him into the final eight of a grand slam and, according to his junior coach of four years, the Australian public shouldn't be surprised if De Minaur can go even further.

"Don't bet against Alex because he's better than he looks," Dock said. "He's constant, he doesn't have big shots but he's like Lleyton Hewitt. He grinds away and is just constant. Now that Djokovic is out of it, it's the perfect time for him to win it."

Alex de Minaur at the US Open and as a young boy in Sydney.Credit:Getty, Instagram

Despite the absence of several notable players, the final eight is a position De Minaur wants to make his new benchmark. Few may fancy De Minaur to go further than Thursday morning's clash against Thiem, but the youngster from Sydney won't be changing anything about his game plan to better his hopes of causing an upset. It means his aggression, fighting spirit and pace will likely remain the backbone of his game plan to stun the world No.3 and reach the semi-final.

"Look, I'm obviously very happy. At the end of the day, this is where I want to be and this is where I truly believe I belong – second weeks of slams and going deep," de Minaur said. "I'm happy I'm finally at this stage but nothing changes. Everything stays the same. Now I've got just another match waiting for me."

The gulf in stature won't stop De Minaur from looking to make Thiem work on the court. The Australian's famed tireless energy and agility on the court will make him tough to break down and the 21st seed is confident he will have enough time to recover.

"I can't wait to go out there and play my quarter-finals match and I will do everything I can to recover now and hopefully I will be ready," he said.

In the absence of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – the latter was disqualified for accidentally striking an official with a ball – leaves the 27-year-old Austrian Thiem as the new favourite. Thiem is the highest ranking men's player remaining at Flushing Meadows after reaching the 2019 French Open final and the 2020 Australian Open final, where he forced Djokovic to five sets after disposing of Nadal in the quarters.

"That's the only strange thing about the fact that the big three are not around, is that I'm probably one of the oldest players left," Thiem said. "That is surreal to me."

Much like De Minaur, Thiem had few problems progressing to the quarter-finals. After a close first set, last year's Australian Open finalist cruised past Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime in straight sets; 7-6, 6-1, 6-1. The semi-finals of the US Open would be uncharted territory for Thiem who has never been past the quarter-finals of this competition.

In the women's draw, American Serena Williams is the top remaining seed after No.2 seed and Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin was eliminated in the fourth round. Williams, who is bidding for her 24th grand slam title, plays Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova in her quarter-final.

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