Alex de Minaur’s encouraging progress on clay courts has been rudely interrupted once more by a bright young talent who’s beginning to haunt Australia’s No.1.
Jannik Sinner is still just 20 but he outplayed de Minaur for the fourth time in their burgeoning careers in their Madrid Open second round clash, pounding the Sydneysider 6-4 6-1 on Wednesday evening.
The pair had first met in the NextGen finals in Turin when the Italian, then 18, was dazzling in taking his first ATP title against his 20-year-old opponent.
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Now 23, de Minaur hasn’t made the sort of rocket progress that the Italian has enjoyed and Sinner still seems to have the measure of the ever-willing Australian, now having won 10 of the 11 sets they’ve played.
The last time they met at the Australian Open in the Rod Laver Arena in January, Sinner won in straight sets.
Yet de Minaur went into their latest clash buoyed by his best-ever clay-court campaign which featured him almost reaching the final in Barcelona last month.
Sinner, though, started off in the Arantxa Sanchez Vicario stadium, looking in the mood to blow de Minaur away.
To the Australian’s credit, he hung in after losing his opening service game and, despite the disparity in their power, de Minaur capitalised on some careless errors from the Italian to earn two breaks.
But on each occasion, Sinner bounced back immediately to put the pressure on and de Minaur, at set point down, succumbed and gifted the stanza by planting a simple smash into the net after 45 see-saw minutes.
De Minaur can only have been dispirited and his familiar resilience seemed to desert him as he delivered a game littered with errors to lose his serve and go 3-1 down.
Sinner ripped through the match to take the final five games, wrap up victory after just 74 minutes and set up a last-16 date with either Felix Auger-Aliassime or Cristian Garin.