Still nine days to go in the U.S. Open. Still at a stage of the tournament where some low-profile players, matched against the Big Names, need introductions.
So, meet Alex de Minaur, who knocked off 2014 Open runnerup Kei Nishikori of Japan on Friday, 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. And Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi, who pushed 2016 Open champ Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland around Louis Armstrong Stadium for three hours before losing in three tightly contested sets, 6-4, 7-6 (9), 7-6 (4).
First de Minaur, a 20-year-old Australian who is climbing the rankings ladder steadily. He now has reached his first major tournament fourth round after dispatching the seventh-seeded Nishikori, de Minaur’s first victory over a top-10 player. Already this year de Minaur has won his first two ATP Tour titles and now has prevailed in 11 of his 16 Grand Slam matches over the last two years.
“This is where I feel my game’s at,” he said. “I want to be pushing these guys. I want to be pushing second weeks of Grand Slams and putting myself out there. So, very happy.”
De Minaur is neither particularly big (6 foot) nor particularly powerful, but he knows his way around a tennis court. And at high rates of speed. He hangs in there on every point. A year ago at Flushing Meadows, 2014 Open champ Marin Cilic needed five sets to rid himself of de Minaur in the third round.
That loss, after winning the first two sets, was “a bit of a heartbreaking match for me,” de Minaur said. “It stung a lot.
“But you learn so much from it. You know that’s your level and it helped me a lot [Friday]. So there’s not much to complain about. I’m in New York, playing the U.S. Open, some great weather and playing some great tennis.”
In terms of perseverance, meanwhile, Lorenzi has taken matters to another level. He is 37 and mostly plays on the Challenger circuit, the tennis minor leagues, and currently is ranked 135th in the world. He didn’t win his first tour title until he was 34, a record. He was 35 when he reached his best ranking of 33.
Only by virtue of the “lucky loser” provision was Lorenzi allowed into the Open’s main draw. That is, he did not earn a spot by finishing among the top 16 in the 128-player qualifying tournament, but when 2017 Open runnerup Kevin Anderson of South Africa withdrew with a knee injury two days before the Open commenced, the door opened for Lorenzi.
Whereupon he persisted through consecutive five-set victories — over 16-year-old wild card Zachary Svajda of San Diego and 19-year-old Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia. (Two more Open participants who likely need an introduction.)
Of course there can’t be a major tournament without the headliners, and five-time Open champ Roger Federer made a command performance with a straight-sets victory over 58th ranked Daniel Evans of Britain on Friday. But 128 players are needed to fill out the tournament singles bracket, and the majority of them are there to keep the superstars honest.