WATCH—Bernard Tomic wins the Chengdu Open:
2018 could hardly have gotten off to a better start for male tennis players from Australia as Nick Kyrgios won his fourth career title in Brisbane, which was followed a week later by teenager Alex De Minaur’s unexpected run to the final in Sydney.
Since then, there have been a number of standout performances throughout the year—and surprising ones, as well: Case in point, the championship run by Bernard Tomic last week at the Chengdu Open.
It’s been a slow build, but it appears now that Australia is well on its way to regaining its place among the world’s elite.
Currently, there are six players in the Top 100 of the men’s rankings, led by Kyrgios, who’s currently No. 27. After that perfect start to the year, it appeared as if the mercurial 23-year-old was ready to make his push toward the Top 10. However, injuries have plagued Kyrgios throughout the year and his 2018 campaign has been a series of starts and stops. In his first tournament appearance since the Laver Cup, the 2016 Japan Open champion is playing there this week, where he’ll face Richard Gasquet in the second round after defeating last week’s Shenzhen Open champion Yoshihito Nishioka in his first match.
Kyrgios has been Australia’s leading man for several years now, and the second- and third-highest-ranked players from the continent present a complete contrast in their climb up the standings.
John Millman has embraced the ethos that better tennis can be played in one’s later years. The 29-year-old had been on a slow and steady path until he reached New York this summer for the last Grand Slam of the season, the US Open. There, Millman’s career arc was forever changed when he outlasted 20-time major winner Roger Federer on a sweltering night en route to the quarterfinals, where his run was halted by eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
His young compatriot De Minaur, who’s at a career-high No. 38 this week, also impressed in the Big Apple, when he played what was arguably the match of the tournament, falling to 2014 champion Marin Cilic 7-5 in the fifth set. The 19-year-old has been nothing short of a revelation this year as he’s jumped 170 spots in the standings since the start of the season. Aside from the runner-up finish in Sydney, he also reached the final in Washington, DC, where he lost to Alexander Zverev. Earlier in the year, De Minaur had Zverev on the ropes in the opening round of the Davis Cup before losing in five sets.
Exhibiting a thirst for battle has become a trademark of the teenager, a characteristic that has evidently been nurtured by his work with Lleyton Hewitt, the greatest Australian male player of this millennium.
In his role at the helm of the Davis Cup team—as well as his continued presence on the tour now as a part-time doubles specialist—Hewitt has taken the players leading Australia’s hopes under his wing, a group that also includes Matthew Ebden and Matt Reid, among others.
Will the enigmatic Tomic rejoin the fold? Once predicted to be the best of the bunch, a sometimes indifference to the game—as well as a struggle to find his place in tennis—derailed his prospects. Since his appearance—and quick exit—from a reality show, Tomic has appeared to dedicate himself to tennis, which was readily apparent in Chengdu last week. Coming up through the qualifying rounds, Tomic was down on multiple occasions over the course of the tournament, including in the final, where he fought off four match points against top seed Fabio Fognini.
The win brought the 25-year-old back into the world’s Top 100, a place he hadn’t seen in more than a year.
While the current group has improved by leaps and bounds on the regular tour, they’re well aware of the Grand Slam-winning tradition of their predecessors. The last Australian male to reach a major final was Hewitt in 2005, making this drought particularly noteworthy as every decade in the Open Era has seen a player from there contest a championship match on the game’s grandest stages.
With the fleet of players coming through the pipeline, that dubious streak in the rich legacy of the Australians might soon be coming to an end.
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