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'In a great head space': Demon sounds Aus Open warning, gun doubles duo lifts Australia into United Cup quarters

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1st January, 2024
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Lleyton Hewitt has heaped praise on his team’s never-give-up attitude after Australia escaped the group of death, defeating Team USA at the United Cup to secure a quarter-final berth.

Alex de Minaur has sent an emphatic message to the tennis world that he is a dark horse when the Australian Open begins in a fortnight’s time, the hometown hero crushing American world No.10 Taylor Fritz.

Watch every Australian Open match ad-free, live & on demand with centre court in 4K Ultra-HD on the home of Grand Slam tennis, Stan Sport.

Following this, Ajla Tomljanovic’s 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 loss to world No.5 Jessica Pegula levelled proceedings, meaning it all came down to the mixed doubles. Adding to the complications, Australia needed to win the mixed doubles in straight sets in order to top their group, which also featured Great Britain.

Gun doubles pairing Matt Ebden and Storm Hunter got the job done, defeating Pegula and Rajeev Ram 6-3 6-1.

De Minaur, whose previous match at the tournament was a tough three-set loss to Briton Cameron Norrie, produced one of his most spectacular performances to leave the US Open quarter-finalist struggling for answers.

The 24-year old, ranked 12th in the world but without a grand slam quarter-final appearance since 2020, was too fast for the American’s power game, his trademark run and gun approach and superb court coverage breaking Fritz’s serve repeatedly – as well as his own shoelaces.

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“He’s genuinely unbeatable,” Fritz complained to his team after de Minaur broke via a spectacular point for a 5-2 lead in the second set.

Only near the end did the Australian waver, giving Fritz his first break points for the match with a series of nervy shots and double-faulting on match point; but de Minaur would eventually secure the victory at the third time of asking.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen him play better than this,” Australian tennis great John Fitzgerald on Stan Sport.

De Minaur drove Fritz mad throughout his dominant win, with frustration getting the better of the American.

The 26-year-old threw his racquet across the court in disgust early in the second set after de Minaur pulled off a crazy winner to secure a crucial break.

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On another occasion, Fritz rested his head on the net in defeat following yet another sizzling winner from de Minaur.

“Today was a little bit of a new year, new me type of thing,” de Minaur said.

“It worked out well. I was in a great head space. I played the type of tennis I wanted to play, so I’m very happy with that.

“I’ve played Taylor plenty of times. He’s got some explosive firepower, and you have to try to not to let him dictate play.

“I tried to be aggressive. I was able to execute. I’m very happy with that.”

Fritz was a hero of America’s United Cup triumph last summer, recording four wins from his five singles matches, including impressive triumphs over grand slam finalists Alexander Zverev and Matteo Berrettini.

But he was simply no match against de Minaur, who registered 28 winners to 19 winners in the rout.

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De Minaur secured victory with his third match point, producing a deft drop shot to seal the deal.

Alex de Minaur celebrates during his United Cup win over Taylor Fritz.

Alex de Minaur celebrates during his United Cup win over Taylor Fritz. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

In contrast, Tomljanovic only converted three of 11 break-points.

Despite not getting the win, it was a much better performance from Tomljanovic compared to her 6-2 6-4 loss to Katie Boulter on Friday night. 

“I’m not going to lie, Friday really kind of put me down,” Tomljanovic said.

“I really thought my level wasn’t there. 

“But coming out today and putting up a good fight, and even though I didn’t win, I felt like I had so many chances.”

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Team Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt congratulates Ajla Tomljanovic after winning a game in her singles match against Jessica Pegula of Team USA during day four of the 2024 United Cup at RAC Arena on January 01, 2024 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Team Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt congratulates Ajla Tomljanovic. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

In spite of Aija’s complaints, their against-the-odds victory against the US left team captain Hewitt beaming with pride at his entire team.

“They played fantastic, it was great,” Hewitt said.

“I’m very proud. It was backs against the wall after our first match.

“They left everything out there. It bodes well for Wednesday night.”

(With AAP)

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