Alex de Minaur has helped dispel the gloom in the Australian tennis ranks with a virtuoso drought-busting victory on a long, rainy day at the French Open.

Alex Michelsen, a teenage American tyro who had already beaten Australia’s No.1 on a hard court this year, found de Minaur a wholly different prospect on wet clay as he was given a lesson on the Roland Garros red stuff on Monday with a 6-1 6-0 6-2 trouncing.

The 19-year-old Michelsen was left so battered and bamboozled, he ended up reduced to the sort of vintage teenage tantrum that John McEnroe would have been proud of, berating umpire Louis Boucharinc and screaming petulantly when a line call went against him in the final set.  

De Minaur’s effort meant that after five defeats and a withdrawal on a calamitous first two days, Australian tennis could celebrate their first opening-round victory – and on this form, de Minaur looks well set to achieve his ambition of being the first Australian man into the second week at Roland Garros for 17 years.

But that swift demolition job was only the support act before Thanasi Kokkinakis earned a remarkable see-saw five-set triumph – 4-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-3 5-7 6-3 – over his good friend and stablemate Alexei Popyrin in the all-Aussie ‘popcorn match’ that concluded under lights in front of a packed outside-court crowd.

The double success guaranteed two Australians in the second round after two wretched winless days in which the green-and-gold challenge had suffered five defeats and an injury withdrawal.

Laughing when asked if it was his best performance at Roland Garros after a series of patchy displays there over eight years, de Minaur responded: “Well, there’s not too many to go from, so I’ll take it! Looking at the scores and everything, it probably is.

“I’m a completely different player than previous years on the surface. I feel comfortable. I feel capable. I’m going to do my very best because ultimately my goals are, at the slams, to go deep.

“It wasn’t easy out there today. Obviously a long day, stop, starting. More than anything mentally, having to deal with cold and rain in your face. Just had to make sure I had good mentality today. That’s probably the most important thing. 

“I feel like every time I come here to Paris, it’s raining. I can remember very few times where I feel like I’ve played a hot day here, and I remember plenty of these types of matches, sadly. 

“But I knew what to expect. I was ready. I had my undershirt thermal layering on. Yeah, I was ready for a battle in the cold and rain.”

The win came before Brisbane wildcard Adam Walton, on his overseas slam debut and his first ever tour clay-court match, battled admirably, trying to silence a roaring home crowd at the end of the third set, before also bowing out 6-2 6-4 7-5 to former French No.1 Arthur Rinderknech.

And when Rinky Hijikata bowed out late in the evening 6-3 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 to impressive Italian Luciano Darderi, the Sydneysider became the seventh of the nine Aussie main draw starters to depart. 

But another Australian in the second round was guaranteed with Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alexei Popyrin doing domestic battle late into the Paris night.

As the rain spat on and off, de Minaur had to wait for five hours before he could finally get onto Simmone-Mathieu, the beautiful ‘garden’ court set between four greenhouses, and when he finally did, his game had rarely bloomed on the clay as splendidly.

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 28: Alex De Minaur of Australia plays a forehand against Alex Michelsen of United States in the Men's Singles first round match on Day Three of the 2024 French Open at Roland Garros on May 28, 2024 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Alex De Minaur. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Michelsen, who has huge promise and a huge game, was made to look like the novice he really is on the surface, even though he’d beaten American No.1 Taylor Fritz in Geneva last week. De Minaur, fast, creative and ruthless, just led the youngster on a merry dance.

The strapping American was left bouncing his racquet into the dirt and shouting in exasperation at his team, struggling with his footwork in the damp while de Minaur, almost balletic in comparison, delivered an array of drops, lobs and all-court shotmaking that delivered eight breaks of a big serve and 28 winners.

Momentary lapses enabled Michelsen to at last break for a 2-0 lead in the third, but the ‘Demon’ simply reeled off another six straight.

Getting increasingly exasperated, especially when Boucharinc called a dubious de Minaur winner in, Michelsen screamed at him: “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! That is the least funny thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”

Then de Minaur’s brilliance was given a couple of decorative flourishes in the final game.

First, he produced an incredible, looping backhand lob to leave Michelsen stranded, then left him helpless one last time with a delicate cross-court winner to end the American’s torture after one hour, 48 minutes.

The second Australian finally went through at 11.37pm but it was only deep into the last half-hour of the four-hour 24 minutes epic that Kokkinakis finally turned the screw over his pal Popyrin in a big-hitting slogathon that felt as if could have gone either way.

But Kokkinakis, who’s suffered both heartbreak and joy in epic slam five-setters before, this time roared from 2-0 down in the final set to earn the win that sets him up for a potential third visit to the Paris slam third round, as he meets Italian qualifier Giulio Zeppieri in the second.

© AAP





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