Originally published in Australian Tennis Magazine’s Feb/Mar Issue
Lleyton Hewitt would be proud.
Once Australia’s lone ranger, and the only active player linking the country to its once indomitable tennis heights, the 2016 Australian Open acted as his farewell tour. But, as a joyful surprise, the end of something special coincided with the start of something special, as Australian up-and-comers charged onto the stage to soak up the considerable spotlight ‘Rusty’ has left behind.
Perhaps the biggest statement of all came from Oliver Anderson, who became a junior Grand Slam champion after a see-sawing 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 victory over seventh seed Jurabeck Karimov at the home of Australian tennis on Rod Laver Arena.
Anderson, a wildcard into the draw, raced to a one set lead in half an hour, but was dealt a taste of his own medicine by a rampant Karimov, in what Anderson admits was “a pretty terrible second set.”
After a medical timeout for a “hip injury”, Anderson saved a break point in the opening game of the deciding set before breaking the game open to take the title, and continue a long line of Aussie triumph at the event.
Anderson’s victory sees him become the fifth Aussie to win the Australian Open Junior Boys’ Singles title in the past 10 years, joining Nick Kyrgios (2013), Luke Saville (2012), Bernard Tomic (2008) and Brydan Klein (2007).
“It’s good seeing my name up against those guys,” a candid Anderson said post-match, who admitted he was “pretty scared” walking out onto Rod Laver Arena to play the final.
And, although Anderson said the magnitude of what he’s achieved “probably won’t (sink in) for a little while,” he isn’t for one second taking his eyes off the main goal.
“Enjoy the win for a short period of time, but it’s a long career for sure… focusing on my ATP, that’s a bigger picture.”
Focused on the big time, Anderson said from a junior standpoint the events he plays for the rest of 2016 will “probably just be Grand Slams,” with the focus on “challenges and maybe some futures” moving forward.
Although quick to focus on what’s ahead, Anderson must feel satisfied with what’s surely been the best January of his life. His title win follows his maiden ATP match at the Brisbane International earlier this month, achieved by qualifying with wins over two top-150 players.
Anderson’s barnstorming month comes off the back of appointing former doubles World Number 11 Wayne Arthurs as his coach and, although quick to point out he’s “Only been working with him for about three weeks,” Anderson acknowledged the boost that comes with “having him on my side of the court… He’s pretty encouraging.”
Indeed, ‘pretty encouraging’ could be the understatement of the tournament from an Australian standpoint, with Anderson’s success complimented by local hopes Alex De Minaur and Blake Ellis claiming an extraordinary Junior Boys’ Doubles title.
The pair came from a set and match point down to defeat eighth seeds Lukas Klein of Slovakia and Czech Patrik Rikl 3-6, 7-5, 12-10.
Shortly after hoisting the winner’s trophy aloft on-court, the pair were brimming with excitement, both for the victory achieved and the possibilities ahead.
“It’s just… you can’t put it into words,” an elated De Minaur said post-match.
“Being a grand slam champion… you get even more excited because you do it with a teammate, it’s not just about yourself, you do it for the guy by your side as well.”
Reflecting on their success, Ellis was quick to suggest their close friendship off-court is a key to their great pairing on it. “I think it helps… we pick each other up when we’re down and in tough times.”
The pair’s triumph consolidates a long line of success for Australians in the boys’ doubles down under, this the fourth time in a row an Australian has been represented in the winning pair.
Ellis was quick to joke it was he who had to approach De Minaur to propose the pairing, “He’s a wanted man now, Alex,” but the statement may very well be true in the coming years should De Minaur’s rise continue.
Although not making it to the final, De Minaur’s performance in the Junior Boys’ Singles saw him make his second consecutive slam semi-final, solidifying his place inside the Top 10 on the ITF circuit and following on from a 38-21 win-loss record in 2015 and 34-13 in 2014.
Couple his exceptional singles record with a vocalised passion for doubles and its team environment, and De Minaur could be a name at the front and centre of Davis Cup campaigns in the years ahead.
Funnily enough, the idol of both Anderson and De Minaur is, you guessed it, Lleyton Hewitt.
After watching Rusty bare the brunt of the heavy load of Australian tennis expectations for so long, De Minaur and Anderson are two of the rising charges determined to lift Australia back to its once towering heights, re-establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with.
So far, so good.