Alex de Minaur isn’t satisfied with becoming the first local man in almost two decades to make the second week of the Australian Open in three successive years.
Now he’s looking to carve out his own slice of history.
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.”