De Minaur ready to roar back in Melbourne
Alex de Minaur has brushed off the disappointment of a seemingly inevitable Davis Cup Finals exit to declare his intent to roar back to his best at the Australian Open.
There was little to console Lleyton Hewitt and his Australian men's team as they awaited confirmation that Saturday's 2-1 victory over Hungary in the group stage in Turin would be too little, too late to earn them a spot in the quarter-finals.
Yet amid the ruins of a season-ending campaign which saw two drained players, Alexei Popyrin and John Millman, crestfallen at being beaten by players ranked more than 200 places behind them, de Minaur's efforts represented a real shaft of light.
Still groping for his best tennis after an underwhelming, COVID-hit second half of the season, there was something inspiring in the Aussie No.1's manic, back-to-the wall efforts to rescue lost causes in three rubbers.
He fell short in two - a doubles and singles in the loss to Croatia - but produced such a spirited effort against a rocket-fuelled Marin Cilic that he nearly pulled off what captain Hewitt felt would have been perhaps the greatest win of his career.
Then, outgunned in a blistering contest against power merchant, Marton Fucsovics, he ground down the Hungarian with the sort of sheer scurrying, damned-if-I'll-be-beaten resilience that bore all the hallmarks of his captain.
No wonder Hewitt smiled on hearing the comparison.
And after his long, wearisome season, which featured a point in June when he'd soared into the world's top 15 for the first time but then spiralled into a fog of first round exits, this felt like a moment where he'd rediscovered himself.
"It's a good way to finish the year, a nice little confidence booster and something to build from," said the 22-year-old, who's dropped to world No.34.
Asked if the "real" de Minaur would bounce back next year, he said: "We'll have to wait to find out but from my end, it's all about moving past this year, putting it in the back of my mind and using it as energy and fuel to fire me up for next year.
"It wasn't the year I wanted, not in the slightest.
"I'm going to work my butt off in the off-season and hopefully come to Australia and start off my year with a bang.
"I'm going to put myself in the best position possible to perform ... and hopefully I can play the tennis I want to play."
Despite the team's expected early exit, the Davis Cup camaraderie had brightened his spirits.
"I haven't been getting results, haven't been playing the way I want, yet after the first day of just being around these boys my whole morale just changed.
"These boys brought me up - I enjoyed myself, we had fun.
"This is exactly what I needed to finish the year well. Definitely thrived off this experience."
Captain Hewitt is also backing his mini-me 'Demon' to roar back in time for Melbourne.
"Fucsovics threw everything at him. It was some incredible tennis," Hewitt said.
"I think it sets him up really well for, hopefully, a really good Australian summer."
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