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Published Time: 09.07.2024 - 18:01:29 Modified Time: 09.07.2024 - 18:01:29

One of those matches came in January, when Australian Alex de Minaur took him down in straight sets at the United Cup — a fitting result as it pitted a rising star against a legend at the other end of his career. Novak Djokovic, Djokovic, holger rune

One of those matches came in January, when Australian Alex de Minaur took him down in straight sets at the United Cup — a fitting result as it pitted a rising star against a legend at the other end of his career.

De Minaur is still only 25 years old and comfortably playing the best tennis of his career, currently sixth on the ATP's live rankings after reaching his first Wimbledon quarterfinal.

Djokovic would have been within his right to assume he had de Minaur covered in that match, considering the 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 demolition the Serb put on him in the fourth round of the Australian Open not 12 months earlier.

But 2023 was a tipping point for the Australian.

He beat Andy Murray four times and Rafael Nadal once (although neither were at their halcyon days), scored four top 10 wins, cracked the top 20, won a title in Acapulco, reached three finals, led Australia within reaching distance of the Davis Cup and made it to the last 16 at the Australian and US Opens.

And the milestones keep coming for de Minaur in 2024, with his first Wimbledon quarterfinal pitting him against a modern-day legend still within spitting distance of his past peak performance.

"He has improved so much in the last year-and-a-half," Djokovic said once their match-up was confirmed.

Australia's Alex de Minaur has an injury scare as Novak Djokovic awaits after a testy exchange with the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon.

"Watching his progress, seeing him get into the top 10 is not a surprise."

De Minaur's serve has become a weapon, albeit an inconsistent one, and his forehand power has improved markedly to help him add offence to the phenomenal defence he already had as the near-consensus fastest player in tennis.

This is his third major quarterfinal on a third surface, and his second in two months — going down to eventual runner-up Alex Zverev at Roland Garros.

"He's a great all-round player and he's now established in the top 10 or 15 in the world," Djokovic said.

"He has plenty of experience playing on the big stage in the latter stages of grand slams.

"He's gonna come out giving his all and believing he can win. He already beat me in Australia this year, so there's no reason he can't think he can win that match."

Despite going up against a man who … let's pick any random stat … has won almost nine times as many grand slam matches as him, de Minaur will have one thing on his side: the crowd.

Now, Djokovic said it himself, the confines of Wimbledon aren't exactly the most threatening in world sport, but with the roof closed and an election just lost, those Centre Court fans are looking for a fight.

Djokovic and the crowd had some friendly interplay when he took faux penalty as the crowd celebrated England's Euros win midway through his third-round clash with Australian Alexei Popyrin.

Djokovic's reputation within the game in terms of pure brilliance has never been debated, but so many things over the past five years have generated more controversy — from the COVID parties, to the vaccination debacle, to allegations of exaggerating injuries.

Since the fuss around the 2022 Australian Open and his subsequent deportation, he became friends with Nick Kyrgios and, like the acerbic Aussie, it seems like Djokovic has become more willing to embrace his villainous side. But he still clearly prefers to be liked.

The elongated cheers of Ruuuuuuuune in Djokovic's fourth-round win over Holger Rune clearly got to him as he took aim at the "disrespectful" fans, saying they were looking for a cowardly way to boo him.

The fact there wasn't a single audible boo through his whole post-match screed suggests that perhaps they really were raucous cheers for Rune. But it wouldn't be completely out of character for a competitor such as Djokovic to invent and imagine a slight to give himself some extra motivation.

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Regardless, come quarterfinal time, there's a chance the crowd might take a less circuitous route to booing him. Especially considering the man on the other side of the net.

De Minaur doesn't have many haters.

He's softly spoken, humble, almost never has fits of fury, plays an exciting brand of tennis, works his backside off in matches and his physique and athleticism proves he has done so throughout his career to get to where he is now.

But perhaps the most important factor, de Minaur is dating Britain's number one women's tennis player.

He and world number 29 Katie Boulter have become something of a power couple in the tennis world thanks to their bizarre tendency to win titles within hours of each other this year, leading to some very hurried trips from celebrations on centre court to the departure lounge at the airport.

The telegenic pairing embodying the special relationship between our two nations prompted one British reporter to label de Minaur "virtually half British" — a label the Sydneysider was happy to accept.

"100 per cent. I'll take all the support I can get. I can be the honorary Brit here at Wimbledon," he said.

"I do feel very loved out there. I always love coming to Wimbledon. I always feel like I play some of my best tennis and over the years the support has grown significantly.

"It's a great feeling as a player to know that you've got a lot of in that stadium backing you in and having your back when you're so far away from home."

He'll need it.

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De Minaur said his career has been "all little wins". He'll need to strain every sinew, find every line and wring every drop of sweat to get the biggest of his career.

Lucky for him, de Minaur has spent years doing just that; squeezing every drop of juice from the fruit of all his labour.

He said he's "looking forward to the challenge" of facing Djokovic in five sets again, 18 months after the last time.

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