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‘Demon’ hugs kid who gave him life on court

Source: Alex de Minaur / Twitter

Alex de Minaur has found “gold at the end of the tunnel”, defusing the power of Jan-Lennard Struff to make a landmark appearance in the French Open last-16.

Alex de Minaur has hailed his backs-to-the-wall triumph at the French Open against an inspired big-hitting opponent and in the face of another mentally draining rain delay as one of his very best.

The Australian survived a hail of winners from powerhouse Jan-Lennard Struff but emerged the stronger after a four-and-a-half hour stoppage to win 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-3 on Saturday, becoming the first Australian man for 17 years to reach the singles last-16 since his Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt.

And at the end of a match that took over eight hours to complete, de Minaur reckoned he had discovered “gold at the end of the tunnel”.

“Another huge mental battle,” sighed the 25-year-old.

“It was probably one of my best performances, mentally, in my career to turn that match around with the conditions, with everything really against me.”

Small fan with big sway

De Minaur had just one destination immediately after his milestone third-round win at Roland Garros – to run and give a hug to the young fan at courtside he swore had given him life during his most trying of French Open battles.

Under the cosh against big-hitting Jan-Lennard Struff in a wretched cold, rain-interrupted duel that dragged on-and-off for over eight hours, de Minaur reckoned the sight of the kid who braved the elements and never stopped cheering for him all day was what kept him going.

And he was so impressed by his new No.1 fan that de Minaur, who gave his cheerleader a souvenir towel after his 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-3 victory, later put out a plea on social media to find out the name of his young saviour so he could thank him properly.

“I need to find the name of this legend!!! Message me on instagram, I need you for the next round,” wrote de Minaur, after Roland Garros had posted film of the youngster supporting him on Court 14.

“That young lad was there from the very first point ’til the last with five hours of rain delay,” de Minaur told reporters.

“He was this little kid that at every single change of ends, every single point I won, he was screaming at my face.

“I’m looking at him and thinking if I was a fan, I would probably be back home, because it was bloody cold out there!

“I don’t understand what this kid is doing, but, oh, he gave me life.

“Every single change of ends I’m looking at him, locking eyes with him.

“And at the end I just gave him a hug. I was, like, mate… it was a relief more than anything.

“It was amazing. I appreciate this kid, the fact that he’s spent 10 hours at the court today in the freezing cold pumping me up. I was happy that I was able to get a win together with him.”

Asked what prize he had given the lad, de Minaur sounded almost embarrassed.

“Gave him a towel. Actually, I would have given him everything in my bag. I mean, I just wasn’t thinking straight with the emotions, but he deserved everything!”

Devil of a job

On another grey, dank Paris morning, the ‘Demon’ had a devil of a job coping with a rejuvenated 34-year-old giant playing lights-out tennis as he lost the first set and was reeling at 1-3 down in the second.

“Everything couldn’t get any worse, right? I knew that this was just his (Struff’s) ideal conditions to a T. Slow, heavy, rainy, muddy, he’s able to hit through the court and not make a lot of mistakes.

“I just told myself the only chance or way I was going to win was just to fight ’til the end, fight every single point, keep battling, try to stay in no matter what. That’s what got me the win.

“Sometimes you don’t get rewarded, but a day like today where I’m backed against the wall, a lot of things going against me, and managing to kind of find the gold at the end of the tunnel, it’s huge.

“It kind of gives me that confidence that I can do it again and again now.’

Indeed, de Minaur can consider the day he defused Struff’s thunderous game in six minutes under three hours in front of a largely pro-German crowd to make the second week in his least productive grand slam to be another key moment in his blossoming career.

He fought back to take the second set but was 2-0 down in the third when the rains came for the fifth straight day at this trying Roland Garros.

It’s played on de Minaur’s nerves all week, the Aussie No.1 complaining that the constant interruptions to matches in the cold, damp conditions had added years to his life.

But it was the booming groundstrokes of world No.41 Struff that had looked more designed to give him grey hairs, as he had crashed 32 winners past the 11th seed before the stoppage came.

But it proved a timely one for de Minaur, as Struff admitted.

“After the rain, I felt he came on very well, played a bit more aggressive. At the end, he was playing very good, hitting very deep balls, getting into offensive positions,” said the German. “He did a great job.”

Indeed, when play finally resumed at 5.30, Struff’s guns were spiked.

De Minaur, at 3-1 down in the third, reeled off five games, and a break in the third game of the fourth was crucial, though de Minaur did suffer some nervous moments as Struff had two break points to get back on serve at 4-4.

Then he could ponder the prospect of a fourth-round date with old foe, fifth seed Daniil Medvedev, who overcame Czech Tomas Machac 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 1-6 6-4.

De Minaur was the first of the two remaining Australian singles players in action, with Thanasi Kokkinakis, creaking into the fray again after two exhausting five-setters, having his match with 12th seed Taylor Fritz, the American No.1, rearranged to take place on the same Court 14 immediately afterwards.

Umpire rescues pigeon

A pigeon landed on the court during a French Open match, leading the chair umpire to use a towel to rescue the fallen fowl.

The pigeon dropped to the red clay at Court Suzanne Lenglen and remained on the ground during a changeover in the fourth set of Daniil Medvedev’s third-round victory over Tomas Machac at Roland Garros.

“I hope the bird was OK. It was not looking good. I think maybe something (was wrong) with the wing,” Medvedev said.

“The referee did a good job. He was very gentle. I think (that’s) important. I hope the bird is fine. Maybe they’ll take it to the vet clinic or something. I don’t know; we need to ask what happened after.”

Indeed, eagle-eyed chair umpire Damien Dumusois did fly into action, climbing down from his perch and grabbing a white towel.

He approached the bird, which appeared injured, and tried hopping away.

Dumusois gave chase and eventually bent over, using the towel to grab the pigeon with both hands, earning cheers from spectators.

The umpire then carried it toward a doorway before handing it over to someone else, who held the bird aloft, drawing more applause.

Dumusois returned to his chair, got back up on his seat and announced that play would resume.

“Yeah, I saw that. I think he was a little bit struggling,” Machac said, presumably talking about the pigeon, but also possibly about Dumusois. “I don’t know what happened but you need to focus.

You can’t try to watch that. It’s tough, but I tried to focus.”

Medvedev actually found the brief interruption helpful. It happened right after he won an 18-point game and the little extra time during the break let him catch his breath.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, if it gives me an extra minute to breathe, it would be perfect,’ and it did,” Medvedev said. “For me, it was a good moment.”

The match continued with Medvedev ahead 4-3 in the final set, and the fifth-seeded Russian completed his 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 1-6 6-4 win about 10 minutes later.

Ever seen that before during a match?

“No,” said Machac, a 23-year-old from the Czech Republic who beat Novak Djokovic last month. “I think it was the first time that this happened.”

—AAP

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