As the final hours of Alex de Minaur’s enforced hotel quarantine come to a close, the 21-year-old has no complaints about his time locked inside and instead is looking at things with a different perspective.
Unlike many of his countrymen, de Minaur arrived in Australia on an Australian Open chartered flight from Dubai after claiming the season-opening Antalya title and was forced into 14 days of hotel quarantine upon arrival.
One of the lucky players who was able to leave his room for five hours of training during the day, de Minaur has sympathy for the dozens of competitors who were locked down completely, but chose to see the positive in the situation, acknowledging the opportunity to play the Australian Open as a privilege.
“I do believe that we’re extremely privileged to be able to come here, and at least for a large majority of the players to have five hours a day to train and do what we need to do,” de Minaur told ESPN.
“I knew coming in it was always going to be a very difficult task. I know very well how fellow Aussie players and teammates have had to come back and spend 14 days in a room without leaving. I knew there was always a possibility [of being locked inside], but we’ve been extremely fortunate.
“There’s no secret why Australia’s one of the safest, if not the safest, place in the world right now and that’s thanks to these measures and how they’ve dealt with the virus. Millions of people have had to undergo hard quarantine in their houses for us to be able to come here and play this tournament and make it happen. So I’m definitely feeling extremely privileged.”
Like many people around the world who have been forced into strict lockdown, de Minaur was isolated from friends and family for months in Spain during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the hard lockdown, the World No.23 spent much of his time training, but the time in isolation took its mental toll and bouncing back was something he and his psychologist had to work hard on.
“It was definitely a tough time, I spent a very long time — what felt like ages — on house arrest. It was definitely something I wasn’t used to – even just staying in the same place for more than three weeks, that was definitely a shock to the system.
“It took a lot of work mentally; that’s the biggest thing I would say. I had to put in a lot of work behind the scenes with my psychologist to try to see this in a different perspective. 2020 has been a very tough year for a lot of people, so it’s all about trying to put that behind us, focus on 2021 and try to make it everything 2020 wasn’t.”
A key distraction – and a new skillset – for Australia’s number one men’s player was helping to create the new Asics Solution Speed FF2 tennis shoe that he would go on to wear in his Antalya title win.
“It’s amazing. I think of the journey I’ve been on with Asics and now to be designing and having input on this shoe is truly amazing.
“Hopefully I can go out there and play some great tennis and encourage little kids, that for sure.”
Unlike several Australian players such as World No.1 Ashleigh Barty and Davis Cup teammate Nick Kyrgios who chose to sit out most of the 2020 season, de Minaur continued playing tournaments around the world throughout the year. Returning to competition was what he needed after heavy lockdown and it resulted in a year of highs and lows; reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the US Open, and then rolled in the first round at Roland Garros.
“We had about three months of hard lockdown in Spain and it felt very long,” de Minaur said. “I had forgotten almost what it felt like to compete and for me this is the beauty of our sport and that’s why we put in the hard yards every day – to go out there and to compete against other people.
“The competition is what I truly missed, that’s why I felt like I needed to get back out there on court. Being home by myself and just training, just didn’t feel like I was going to last too long, I needed the competition.”
Ready to move on from the hardships of 2020, de Minaur has already earned a title, winning in Antalya in Turkey and now turns his focus to the Australian summer with a match-up against the World No.2 Rafael Nadal at the ATP Cup to open his account.
It’s a chance for de Minaur to exact revenge against the Spaniard, after de Minaur took the first set in the semi-final in last year’s inaugural tournament, only to be beaten in three sets. It’s a test the 21-year-old is excited to undertake.
“I’m really happy where I’m at mentally, physically and on the court. Now it’s just about hopefully bringing my best level for the Australian summer.
“These are the matches [playing Nadal] I want to play, it’s a great opportunity for me; to test myself, gauge myself. I’m really looking forward to it. I had a great match last year against him. I’m doing everything in my power to hopefully come out and play my best tennis. “Playing in front of my home crowd is special and it’s hopefully going to be a great match.”