Australia’s number one tennis player, Alex De Minaur, is in full preparation for the French Open, thrashing and throwing himself around the clay courts of Europe against legends like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

The 25-year-old is on course to make an impact at this year’s Roland Garros, a trophy that has eluded Australia’s men’s tennis players for 55 years and a tournament De Minaur has previously only ever reached the second round of.

Nicknamed ‘The Demon’, De Minaur has powered his way from being a spindly Sydney teenager to world number 11 on the ATP rankings, but according to tennis coach and one-time star Australian player Wally Masur moving up that one extra place will be the toughest challenge he has yet had to face.

Former world number eight player Wally Masur, who worked with De Minaur on his game when he was in high school, said the country’s men’s no.1 is on the cusp of the top 10, and vying to become only the second Australian, behind himself, to reach the top 10 ranking since Lleyton Hewitt in 2006.

“I mention Lleyton Hewitt, somebody who’s very competitive by nature,” he told Central News. “Some players just fire up when there’s something on the line, and Alex always had that.

“Alex has the money backhand. He was not a big kid, he was slightly built, but he was very fast and understood the game. And the main thing that he’s worked on over the last three or four years is just his physicality. Often, when Alex plays, he’s giving away a fair bit of height and weight.

“The challenge, of course, is to transition from the junior to the senior game. And for Alex, it worked. He certainly worked hard at it for a number of years, and in February, he hit the top 10.”

However, Masur, 60, said it would be no stroll into the top 10 as the ATP tour was fierce and unpredictable.

A month ago, the Demon reached the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Open, but three weeks back exited in round one of the Madrid Open after going down to now world number 305, Rafael Nadal, in straight sets. In his last match he was humbled by Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round of the Italian Open, a clay court tune-up for the French, but had a good run, including winning a three-hour match against the dangerous Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

“The tour is not easy,” said Masur. “The biggest thing for me [about it] is the depth. I look at players, and they’re ranking in the two hundreds, and they’re just as good, and that has made it very competitive.

“There was a point where Alex was frustrating players with his speed, endurance and consistency. And then he realised that it’s going get him so far.

Alex has a skill set where he’s actually relevant all throughout the year on every surface, and not every player can say that.

“So, there was a year there where he was striving to build on his game. After about a year, that sort of it settled in, and he struck the balance between when to defend and when to go for it.”

Compared to the other Grand Slams, where De Minaur has reached the fourth round in the Australian Open and Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the US, the 25-year-old has failed to make an impact on the French clay. In fact the only Australian in recent years to find any sucess there was Ash Barty, who won the event in 2019.

“Everything we do throughout our junior careers to set ourselves up for a game style doesn’t necessarily suit the clay courts,” said Masur. “The clay courts is a surface we don’t really play on in Australia.

“[We are] more suited to faster courts, and clay is a little bit slower. The movement is different, it requires a greater shock tolerance, and you have to play with a bit more margin.

“[However, Alex] has a skill set where he’s actually relevant all throughout the year on every surface, and not every player can say that. Given that he spent some time in Spain and now resides there, he’s much more familiar with the clay than many Australian players.”

There’s also the bonus tournament this year, which will be played on clay again – the Olympics.

In the space of four months, the tour will go through the French Open, Wimbledon, Olympics and US Open.

Masur said the Olympics would add to an already tight schedule, and warned that players needed years to prepare for those busy periods.

“You can’t do your homework the night before an exam,” he said. “It’s years and years of preparation to be able to have a good campaign.

“Week in, week out, he’s done the work over a period of years. And that’s hugely important.

“I can imagine that when you play him, it’s a bit of a nightmare because he just doesn’t go away. And he doesn’t give you any breathing space. That’s probably his greatest asset.” he said.

The first round of the French Open starts on May 26 and can be watched on 9Now and Stan.

Main image by Carine06/Flickr.