On a day when countrymen Thanaski Kokkinakis, Alexei Popyrin and Christopher O’Connell all departed to reduce the host nation’s Australian Open contingent, de Minaur showed exactly why he’s seeded for this tournament and why he already has a title in his kitbag in 2021 – he won in Turkey in January, the fourth title of his promising career.
“Damn it feels good to be back here in Australia,” de Minaur said in his on-court interview.
“I’m very happy with how I maintained my focus through the match.
“I played some great quality tennis.”
De Minaur will have the benefit of next meeting an opponent who did it hard on Thursday night. Italian Fabio Fognini is through after a four-hour, five-set tussle against his countryman Salvatore Caruso.
De Minaur set the tone for the match with a brisk 36-minute opening set. The Uruguayan, who was thrown into hard quarantine upon his arrival in Australia, had only himself to blame for being behind the eight-ball, guilty of 17 unforced errors.
The Australian broke in the fifth game and the opening set, and effectively the match, was his from there.
The fifth game of the second set was decisive, too, after de Minaur moved to a 4-1 lead. He shrugged off a break point and kept the momentum.
Then, in the final set with the Australian steaming towards victory, Cuevas started swinging more freely and, suddenly, de Minaur felt a touch of pressure.
It was momentary and, in due time, the three-set triumph was completed.
Nick Kyrgios will rightly attract the Friday night spotlight against US Open champion Dominic Thiem. On the other half of the draw, it’s de Minaur quietly getting things done. He could be on a path for a fourth-round showdown with Rafael Nadal, a stage of the tournament last year where the world No.2 had to do plenty to see off the Kyrgios challenge.
De Minaur was bold and brave against Nadal 12 months ago. Another shot at the grand slam champion might yet be around the corner.
On John Cain Arena, Fognini edged Salvadore 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (12).
Most notably, however, was the fireworks between the two Italians not long after the final point. For two players who’d gone toe to toe for games on end, it’s a wonder they had the energy.
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age