Demon done: ‘Shot of the tournament’ can’t save de Minaur as Russian’s ‘amazing’ fightback breaks Aussie hearts
Alex de Minaur’s dreams of a breakthrough quarter-final berth at the Australian Open have been dashed by a heartbreaking five-set loss to world No.5 Andrey Rublev, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-0.
In a classic encounter featuring multiple momentum swings and several extraordinary moments, the 24-year old’s stunning run of form looked set to continue when a pair of clutch tie-break wins saw him take a two sets to one lead in front of a packed and vocal Rod Laver Arena crowd.
Among the highlights was a brilliant around the net shot just millimetres from the surface described by Australian tennis great Lleyton Hewitt on Nine as ‘the shot of the tournament’ during the second set tie-break, which helped de Minaur rally from a mini-break down to level the score up.
The third set tie-breaker was won in equally dramatic fashion, with de Minaur claiming a crucial point as a desperate volley near the net bounced off the net cord twice before plopping to Rublev’s side.
With girlfriend Katie Boulter barely able to look, the Australian rode the wave of momentum to claim the set, and appeared to be powering into the last eight.
But despite regularly looking on the verge of a meltdown with several heated outbursts, Rublev would rally against both the Australian and the crowd, taking the fourth set before storming out of the blocks in the fifth to break in the opening game and cruise to an anticlimactic final set bagel to end a four hour and 14-minute battle for the ages.
A glimpse of hope arrived when the Russian appeared to show signs of cramp t 4-0 up; remarkably, though, the 26-year old would hit his way through the pain, his brutal forehand overwhelming de Minaur’s stoic but tiring defence.
“Two days ago I said I hope we’re going to show a great match that the spectators will enjoy – and now I’m regretting it!” Rublev said after his win.
“When I was losing two sets to one down and I broke in the beginning [of the fourth set] and then he broke me back, I started to tell to myself, “You’re going to die today but you will do everything”. And somehow I started to play better and better and I found more energy and I was able to win.”
Rublev had nothing but praise for the Australian after a phenomenal contest, which tennis icon John McEnroe described as ‘like a video game’ on Nine as the pair engaged in several lengthy rallies where neither gave an inch.
“He’s [de Minaur] one of the fastest players, the way he moves with the legs, and takes the speed, it’s crazy,” the Russian said.
“You could see it was super tough to play. Four hours, not enough to say that it’s super tough to play against him!
“So it’s just good to be in a quarter-final and we’ll see what happens.”
De Minaur will be left to rue a first serve percentage of just 52 per cent, which cost the world No.10 crucial free points, as well as an inability to convert multiple break point chances in what proved a crucial first set, plus a double-fault on set point down to give the Russian the early edge.
All up, de Minaur won just three of 16 break point chances, compared to eight out of 13 from Rublev’s racquet.
But this was by no means a match lost by the Australian; rather, Rublev’s powerful groundstrokes, clutch serving at key times – most notably when saving three break points at 5-0 up in the fifth set when serving for the match – and excellent mental resilience to claw back the momentum early in the fourth set were what won the day.
After an early break in the fourth set, giving it straight back to the hometown hero could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back; instead, Rublev instantly broke again to take an advantage he wouldn’t relinquish again.
“He’s gone to a different level in this fifth set,” Todd Woodbridge said on Nine as Rublev broke for 3-0 lead with a pair of crunching forehands.
“This is an amazing mental performance from Rublev.”
Former champion Jim Courier said the Russian was ‘throttling the ball’, and he wasn’t wrong.
“That’s so good from Rublev – incredible,” was tennis icon John McEnroe’s reaction to the 26-year old’s powerful display in the decider.
Sports opinion delivered daily
The victory gives Rublev a chance to end his Grand Slam quarter-final hoodoo, with the Russian currently at 0-9 at the majors in the last eight, including at the 2021 and 2023 Australian Opens.
However, next opponent and fourth seed Jannik Sinner, the last player in the men’s draw yet to drop a set, promises to be the toughest of opponents.
For de Minaur, the result will see him again drop out of the world’s top ten at the end of the tournament, while for the third consecutive year he has fallen at the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
However, unlike in 2022 and 2023, he was at least able to leave having pushed his opponent all the way, with previous losses to Sinner and Novak Djokovic coming in straight sets.