"Legends are not born, they are made with thousands of sleepless nights. Tons of struggles and gallons of sweat... It's not easy as it seems to be, but it's possible." This quote from Ketan Pandey seems quite relevant at the moment. Alex De Minaur was two sets up before all of a sudden finding himself 2-5 down in the fifth set against 2014 champion Marin Cilic.
As they played to the tune of about 2000 people on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, many thought they had seen another massive upset on the cards inside the second biggest court at the US Open after it had seen the likes of Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber, and Alexander Zverev all lose on that court.
Four hours total and nearly two and a half hours past midnight later, the Croat survived 7-5 in the fifth after having held seven match points. Cilic may be the one who has claimed victory, but the 19-year-old Australian who continued to fight tooth and nail until the two shook hands at the net, has won the hearts of many and has shown he is indeed ready to shine under the bright lights and the big city.
Standing at 5'11', the Australian is quite diminutive in his stature compared to the 6’6’’ Croat, but that deter him from really taking it to his opponent. After two breaks of serve in the first three games, the Australian broke through in the seventh game to pull ahead. Some would crumble under the early pressure serving for the set, but he came through in quite comfortable passion.
He neutralized one of the biggest serves on tour by mixing his return position for both first and second serve. While his first serve returns were taken quite early at the baseline, his returns on the second varied so much that Cilic didn’t know what to expect.
De Minaur could be right on the baseline, three feet in front of it, or three feet behind it. It honestly didn’t matter where he stood, the 19-year-old found a way to keep his returns deep and force Cilic immediately on the defensive.
De Minaur’s work rate is absolutely relentless. From first point to last, he’ll track down every ball that he can, and then some. He is an “Energizer bunny” in the sense, he could just keep going for hours and hours in and just won’t stop running.
It came to one point where the Australian pulled out some stunts out of the track and field book- jumping over a bench like a hurdle in the steeplechase after running from the doubles alley behind the baseline up to the net to catch a drop shot- and even then, he didn’t win the point.
Heart Of A Lion
From the third set on, something began to click for the Croat, punishing De Minaur any chance he could get. He broke twice in five games in the third set and even had three break chances in the seventh game of the set. All facets of the seventh seed’s game were coming altogether; it only took a couple of sets but better late than never.
Five more break looks (remember this, five breaks, it will be important) in the eighth game of the fourth set could not be converted but you felt that for the best part of about an hour, this was going to go the distance. Indeed it as Cilic converted his second set point in the tenth game of the set.
Nearly three and a half hours had gone, and the legs of De Minaur must have felt heavy because he didn’t breeze by his first two matches like Cilic did. During these crucial moments, a familiar sight amongst the tennis world was cut to often in the De Minaur box, it was Lleyton Hewitt, a reminder to the last generation that they could be looking at the present-day Hewitt out on court standing across from Cilic.
Hewitt, who stands 5’10’’, had always used his ability to track down every ball and grind out points which was what he became famous for, his never-say-die attitude. In the box of De Minaur, he must have felt like he was watching a newer, younger, reincarnation of himself out on the court in how De Minaur fought tooth and nail every point.
Another upset that could have been was halted in its tracks- the new Armstrong has been called to some as “The Graveyard Court”- already when De Minaur was down 2-5, 0-40 in the decisive set. That’s when it all turned around. Triple match point for Cilic on the De Minaur serve, and then something just clicked for the youngster. 19 points and five break/match points later (told you it would be important), the 19-year-old held for 3-5.
2000 in the second biggest court at the US Open in New York gave off an atmosphere of tens of thousands of rambunctious, energized Australians watching their countryman play in a home Davis Cup tie (RIP to the old format). Every point won from De Minaur resulted in roars from the people who reveled in the late-night tennis as they silently hoped Cilic would falter to see the match off in a much-deserved deciding set tiebreak. Cilic got broken for 4-5 followed by a gutsy hold from the Australian, avoiding the letdown after working so hard to comeback.
With the crowd firmly against him and his mentality somewhat broken, Cilic held at love, applying the pressure right back to De Minaur in the final service game. Three straight points on the Australian’s serve put Cilic in a familiar sight, holding match points.
From corner to corner, all over the court (could be the world at this point), De Minaur never gave up tracking down Cilic’s shots, but one final forehand from the Croat was just too far out of the Aussie’s reach as the Croat roared to what will be a famous victory.
Four hours even stood on the Rolex clock in each corner, it was 2:22 AM marking this match as the second latest finish in US Open history. In Spain, it was seven in the morning in the De Minaur residence, and it was about dinner time in Sydney where the Aussie was born. From all corners of the world, no matter the time zone, young De Minaur has won over the hearts of many.