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Can the 'Demon' ruffle Rafa's feathers tonight?

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Expert
18th January, 2019
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The nickname ‘Demon’ is just shortening Alex De Minaur’s surname, but it’s pin-point accurate.

It took a Demon to play a semi, and a final, on the same day at the Sydney International to win his first ATP tournament, then head to Melbourne for his first round match at the Australian Open.

De Minaur was presented with his first adult trophy by the legendary Ken Rosewall, while mentor Lleyton Hewitt was smiling broadly, watching from the stand.

Rosewall, and Hewitt, two never-say-die competitors throughout their stellar careers, so it’s fitting the Demon is a chip off those two blocks.

But tonight will be very different to Sydney.

There will be a sardine-packed capacity crowd of 16,200 in Melbourne at around seven o’clock tonight at the Rod Laver Arena centre court, plus multi-millions of live television viewers around the world.

If de Minaur and Rafael Nadal were boxers, the bout would never be sanctioned between bantam Demon, and heavyweight Rafa.

But it will still be a bantam-heavyweight bout on cold hard tennis stats:

De Minaur Nadal
Turned pro 2015 2001
Slam singles 0 17
Titles 1 80
Win/Loss 32/29 918/187
Win percentage 52 83
Prize money $1.5m $103.2m
Age 19 32
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So can the Demon ruffle Rafa’s feathers tonight?

Of course he can, for two reasons.

Firstly he fears no one, even though his boyish looks suggest he has wagged primary school to take on a much older opponent from the other side of the world, just for fun.

And secondly, he will never have the power, but he has the pride, the passion, and the precision way beyond his years.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori, at 178cm, proved yesterday he could win out in five sets over giant Croatian Ivo Karlovic, standing 211cm, despite having 61 aces blasted past him at around 215 kph over four hours.

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“That’s about as many aces I serve in a year,” was Nishikori’s classic explanation.

Shaking hands at the net, Nishikori wasn’t even tall enough to be level with Karlovic’s shoulders.

The “Demon” has played Nadal once before in last year’s Wimbledon third round on the famed centre court as an 18-year-old.

Nadal won 6-1 6-2 6-4 in a tick over two hours, but the clash was a lot closer than that scoreline suggests.

The Spaniard won 91 of the 153 points, but more importantly his experience won most of the critical points.

De Minaur learned plenty that day.

He also reached the third round of the US Open last year, before bowing out 7-5 in the fifth to the 2014 champion Marin Cilic in another four-hour epic.

It’s a different story with Nadal, whose body is showing wear and tear from his long career.

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He’s hardly played any tennis of note since that US Open, and there’s a new innovation that will upset his applecart.

It’s a visible digital countdown to the 25 seconds allowed between points.

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Nadal is a serial offender selecting two of five balls, before going through his histrionics touching just about every part of his upper body, bouncing the ball at least 12 times, and eyeing off his opponent before serving.

All up, 33 to 40 seconds to frustrate his opponent with rarely a reprimand from the central umpire.

That’s history.

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Everyone can see the countdown, so the days of Nadal running his own race are over.

Let’s see just how much it affects his momentum tonight.

The Demon will be ready.