Last Australian standing after Hunter, de Minaur matches

AO highlights - Day 6

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‘s defeatAlex de Minaur is the last Australian standing in the Australian Open singles draw after Storm Hunter lost her women’s match in a three-set battle against Czech star Barbora Krejcikova.

Former French Open champion Krejcikova ended the local doubles queen’s run in a clash that lasted two hours and 30 minutes, finishing after midnight on Friday.

Hunter, carrying the hopes of a nation as the last Australian left in the women’s singles draw, was knocking on the door of becoming the first qualifier to reach the last 16 at Melbourne Park in six years.

But she could not capitalise on several break points late in the second set, before bowing out 4-6 7-5 6-3 to the Czech No.9 seed.

“Definitely a very, very difficult match,” Krejcikova said.

“She’s doing great. She had a great run.

“I just go point-by-point because everything can change in one second.”

Hunter can console herself by pocketing a $255,000 pay day for her first third-round appearance at a grand slam and she’s provisionally set to rise to world No.127.

And she found the whole experience of her six-match run at Melbourne Park to be “super positive” as she declared afterwards: “I absolutely loved it out there. It was a lot of fun.

“Even though I didn’t get the win, this whole week has been a win for my singles. I don’t want to look at it as disappointing today because I enjoyed every minute. It’s not every night you get to play on Rod Laver Arena after Novak and have all the fans out there.

“I’m definitely seeing it as a positive. I’ve played six really high-quality singles matches here. Any other tournament, that would be probably a win of a tournament.”

Storm Hunter hits a return against Barbora Krejcikova at Rod Laver Arena. Photo: Getty

On paper, the 29-year-old Queenslander was a rank outsider against Krejcikova, sitting 169 places lower than the Czech in the WTA rankings.

Both struggled to hold serve in the early exchanges, each broken twice to leave the match finely poised at 3-3.

But it was the Australian who settled first to consolidate yet another break and take out the first set with an unreturnable serve, beckoning for the crowd to rise behind her.

The contest developed into a second-set stalemate as neither was able to produce a break point let alone a break over the first eight games.

Hunter had two break-point chances at both four-all and five-all but couldn’t convert any, before lapsing as Krejcikova turned the screws to take the second set and force a decider.

Krejcikova broke in the second game of the final set and saved a break point chance at 5-2 before closing out the match to book a fourth-round date with Russian 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva, an earlier 1-6 6-1 7-6 (10-5) comeback winner over Frenchwoman Diane Parry.

De Minaur demolishes Cobolli

Alex de Minaur is through to the fourth round. Photo: Getty

Alex de Minaur was in a different league to Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli, living up to his top-10 billing in a 6-3 6-3 6-1 victory on John Cain Arena on Friday night.

It made him the last Australian left in the singles draws as Storm Hunter later lost her third-round tie 4-6 7-5 6-3 to Czech star Barbora Krejcikova.

De Minaur was watched in the stands by former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt, his Davis Cup captain and idol who completed the round-of-16 hat-trick back in 2005.

That year, Hewitt charged all the way to the final — and de Minaur’s hot run has raised hopes he can follow suit.

When asked how he felt after matching Hewitt’s exploits at Melbourne Park, de Minaur said he wanted more than a fourth round showing — looking to improve on his previous best grand slam finish of a quarter-final at the US Open in 2020.

“First of all, I’ll try to get a little bit better and beat my personal best and get to the quarter-finals. That’s the first step,” he said.

“I’ve made a couple of fourth rounds in the past and maybe have gotten to that point and not played the type of match I wanted to.

“I’m hoping I can break that barrier and go one further.”

The first Aussie man since Hewitt in 2006 to gate-crash the world’s top 10 following a sizzling start to the year, de Minaur will play Russia’s Andrey Rublev, who beat Sebastian Korda 6-2 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 in the late game.

That showdown is scheduled for Sunday night, when de Minaur will gun for his first quarter-final berth at Melbourne Park.

After claiming three top-10 scalps — including top-ranked Novak Djokovic at the season-opening United Cup — facing world No.5 Rublev won’t faze the local favourite.

Adding more power to his blistering pace, de Minaur has evolved from the player who fell to Djokovic and current world No.4 Jannik Sinner in straight sets in the past two years of the Open.

The Australian wrapped up the first set on Friday with an ace, taking just 39 minutes, while the second was a tougher contest despite the same scoreline, with de Minaur needing 57 minutes to earn a two-set lead.

Making his Open debut and playing in only his second grand slam, world No.100 Cobolli didn’t play too badly — but the 21-year-old was unable to match de Minaur when it mattered.

Having played his first two rounds in the main stadium Rod Laver Arena, de Minaur said he took time to adjust to the raucous John Cain Arena.

“I struggled a bit to find my rhythm throughout the match but I stayed in the moment, stayed composed, and it worked out in the end,” the 24-year-old said.

“The atmosphere over here is something else. I enjoyed every second of it, but it is a little bit different to RLA and it took a little bit to get used to.

“(The surface) felt a bit slower and I was over-hitting at stages, wasn’t quite finding my timing, but we move on … to the next round.”

Whoever he plays next, a fresh de Minaur — who has only dropped one set in three matches — said he would approach the fourth round with confidence.

“I’m the freshest I’ve felt at this stage of the tournament,” the Sydneysider said.

“It’s all going to come down to the level I bring in the following match.

“I’ve got to back myself up, I’ve got to believe, got to play positive tennis.

“I know the whole crowd is going to be behind me and I’m going to enjoy every second of it.”

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