Alex de Minaur became the youngest player into a Sydney International final in almost two decades on Friday with a stirring comeback win over Frenchman Benoit Paire.
The prodigious n downed Paire 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, to set up a showdown with Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev and become the first 18-year-old into the Sydney final since mentor Lleyton Hewitt won the tournament in 2000.
This was de Minaur’s 11th win in his past 12 matches, following last week’s Brisbane International semi-final appearance and his n Open wildcard tournament win prior to Christmas.
And it was arguably his best, the world No.167 forced to dig deep against the stubborn Frenchman after losing the first set, and again early in the third when he was made to serve through six deuces before prevailing.
He is now the youngest finalist on tour since Taylor Fritz in 2016 and aiming to become the youngest champion since Kei Nishikori lifted the Delray Beach title in 2008.
De Minaur is clearly no flash in the pan or flavour of the month. His appearance in Friday’s final four made him the youngest player to appear in back-to-back tour semi-finals since an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal achieved the feat in 2005. That’s incredibly esteemed company.
A first-round showdown with giant Tomas Berdych awaits de Minaur in Melbourne at next week’s n Open.
But before then he has a title to win, and if de Minaur brings the fight he displayed in the final two sets against Paire on Friday, he will be savouring the biggest triumph yet of his fledgling career on Saturday night.
Paire had his chances against the irrepressible Aussie, but could only convert one of eight break points.
He cut an imposing figure throughout opposite de Minaur, wearing a carefully manicured beard and tight-fit apparel showing off his chiselled frame, but the 18-year-old was undaunted.
Much like he hasn’t been bothered against the likes of Milos Raonic, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez in this past fortnight.
The Hewitt comparisons have been made several times during that stretch, and not without warrant. He chases almost everything down on court, his return of serve is sublime and his lob is a weapon, straight out of the playbook of ‘s former world No.1.
Medvedev certainly isn’t to be taken lightly on Saturday after he staged a remarkable turnaround in his semi-final against Italian fourth seed Fabio Fognini to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Down 3-1 in the third set, the 21-year-old rallied to win 11 of the next 13 games and set up his second career ATP tour final against the rampaging n.
“I don’t know so much about him, but I saw him play in some tournaments and I knew already before that he’s gonna be a great player, because I remember he was playing with Tecnifibre before and we had a camp where I played like some tiebreaks with him,” Medvedev said of de Minaur.
“He was, like, 15. It was only me serving and he beat me. I was, like, ‘Wow, this guy is amazing, he is going to be good.’ And he’s becoming good now. I wish him all the best. It’s nice to see some young guys coming up.”