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Stars align for de Minaur in Paris as Zverev awaits

De Minaur and 'super-fan' Paul

Source: Roland Garros

The stars appear to be aligning for Alex de Minaur in Paris with everything falling into place to hand the Australian potentially a dream opportunity at the French Open.

His quarter-final opponent Alexander Zverev had an exhausting early-hours, eve-of-match finish on Tuesday (local time), then came the bombshell of champion Novak Djokovic’s injury withdrawal.

Together, it has opened up a tantalising path for de Minaur not just to a maiden semi-final, but even to the final.

With the great Djokovic, a potentially unassailable semi-final hurdle, out of the picture, de Minaur knows his last-four opponent would be Casper Ruud, a player he’s beaten twice and never lost to, should he defeat Zverev in a match that has been promoted to Wednesday’s prime-time night spot on Court Philippe Chatrier.

While de Minaur was already in bed, doubtless still dreaming of his finest win in the French Open last-16 over Daniil Medvedev, Zverev was being detained until 1.40am in an epic five-setter with Holger Rune.

Rolling up wearily for press at 2.30am on Tuesday, the German Olympic champion reflected how he had played two nerve-shredding five-setters in his past two rounds. Those alone kept him on court for over eight hours.

How damaging was it, probably only getting to bed about 5am, on the eve of his match against a buoyant de Minaur,  Zverev was asked.

“I’ll survive,” the German said, with a rueful grin. “Look, I’m a lot happier to be in the tournament at 3am, than to be out of it at 3pm.

“Right now I’m a little bit tired I have to say, but extremely happy to escape, still be in the tournament.”

Zverev has cut a resilient figure in Paris, seemingly inured to the distraction of a trial going on back home in Berlin where he’s accused of causing bodily harm to an ex-partner, allegations he vehemently denies.

In his own court, he ended Rafa Nadal’s dream amid all the hype in the first round, then was a double break down in the fifth set against Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in the last 32 before fighting from 2-1 down to overcome Rune grittily in the last 16.

But de Minaur, who has spent 4¼ hours less than Zverev in reaching the last eight, can be forgiven for feeling confident of toppling the world No.4, despite Zverev holding a 7-2 career head-to-head advantage, including a win in their only meeting on clay in 2022.

De Minaur has also been buoyed by his young super-fan, a 14-year-old Parisian local called Paul. who has become the Australian’s French Open mascot.

Above the din on Court Suzanne Lenglen during his duel with Daniil Medvedev, de Minaur swore it was Paul’s voice that helped him pull off a “miracle” at Roland Garros.

The Sydneysider was so impressed by Paul’s non-stop cheering on the sidelines in an early match, he put out a request on social media to find out if anyone knew who the youngster was.

“Through the beautiful world of social media, we ended up finding him and we got him to the match,” de Minaur said after Monday’s Medvedev showdown.

“He came with his whole crew, with his mates and his coach. It was great to see him out there.

“Again, even on that big court, I could hear him after every single point. It’s a distinctive voice, so it’s great to see.”

Asked if Paul would be invited to the quarter-final, de Minaur beamed: “Oh, 100 per cent. He’s managed a miracle – [I] might have to get him on tour week in, week out.

“He’ll be chilling with me tomorrow in my practice day, and of course he’ll be there for the very next match.”

Zverev recognises he’ll be playing a man giddy on confidence.

“I think Alex is playing the best tennis of his life, for sure,” he said.

“Especially this year, he’s seventh in the race [to Turin, effectively the ATP’s 2024 ranking] and could be a contender [at the ATP Finals] in Turin. He’s playing incredible tennis for sure.

“The two times I lost to him were in Australia during team competitions funnily enough. But I’m looking forward to a battle and a probably a very difficult match.

“There’s certain things he’s improved, his serve, his second serve especially has got better. We’ll see – I’ll tell you more after tomorrow.”

De Minaur won’t get ahead of himself, but the thought of playing two-time finalist Ruud in the last four, rather than a 24-time grand slam champion, is a real carrot, especially as he beat the Norwegian in the final at Acapulco, Mexico, this year.

-with AAP

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