Australia have suffered an opening-night flop at the United Cup, but Alex de Minaur hopes his disappointing loss to Briton Cameron Norrie ends up being a good omen for 2024.
De Minaur looked rusty at the start of Friday night’s showdown with Norrie at Perth’s RAC Arena, but he fought back to take it to a deciding third set before losing 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7-2) in two hours 20 minutes.
Great Britain then raced out to an unassailable lead in the tie after world No.56 Katie Boulter defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2 6-4.
It took Storm Hunter and Matt Ebden to earn a 6-3 7-6 (7-5) win over Boulter and Neal Skupski in the night’s final mixed doubles rubber to ensure Australia reduced the final deficit to 2-1.
That win, featuring the WTA’s newly-minted world No.1 doubles player Hunter, could yet prove crucial in the home team’s bid to make the quarter-finals, even if they now face the tallest of orders by relying on champions USA beating GB on Sunday before they then must defeat the Americans the following day.
De Minaur’s 6-3 6-3 loss to Norrie at last summer’s United Cup proved to be a rare blip in the 24-year-old’s season, with de Minaur defeating Rafael Nadal in his next match before going on to claim five top-10 scalps for the year.
Now he is hoping for even bigger things in 2024.
“Last year, I was in the same situation (against Norrie) and I lost in two sets, and I ended up having a pretty good year,” de Minaur said.
“This year I lost to Cam again, but 7-6 in the third. Hopefully, that means I’m going to have an even better year this year.
“It’s the start of the year. You don’t want to base your whole year on one match.
“Sometimes there’s a little bit of rust. The last couple of years I probably haven’t started my best.
“Ultimately, my focus is the Australian Open.
“Obviously I want to play well for my country (here as well), and I’ll do my best to bounce back and be raring for the next one.”
De Minaur looked extremely rusty early in the first set, committing four unforced errors in the first game alone to be broken.
“I had a horrible first game and it ended up costing me the set,” de MInaur said.
“I didn’t feel my best out there. It’s the first match of the new season. It’s been a quick turnaround.
“I wasn’t the sharpest I could have been.”
The Aussie No.1 found his feet in the second set, but things fell apart in the third-set tiebreak, with a double fault handing Norrie the win.
“I’ve played a lot of matches when I’ve been down with a lot more pressure than that one, so I don’t think the pressure was the reason why I double faulted,” de Minaur said.
Tomljanovic tallied just 11 winners for the match compared to Boulter’s 25.
Boulter, who is de Minaur’s girlfriend, converted all three of her break point chances, with Tomljanovic failing to convert any of her six.
Earlier in the day, Beatriz Haddad Maia fell short in her bid to drag Brazil home in the United Cup opener against Spain, the South Americans falling 2-1 in a tense Perth tie.
World No.26 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina got Spain off to a flyer, routing Thiago Seyboth Wild, ranked No.79 in the world, 6-4 6-0.
Brazil levelled the tie, with Haddad Maia grinding down Sara Sorribes Tormo 7-6 (7-1) 6-2.
Spain won the deciding mixed doubles 6-4 7-5 to clinch the tie.