Nadal wary of De Minaur threat
RAFAEL Nadal has hailed the improvement of Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur as they track towards a possible rematch at the Brisbane International this summer.
De Minaur, at 19 the second-youngest man in the world top 100, started pre-season training last week, eager to see what impact four complete weeks without a tournament would do for his game next year.
De Minaur made two ATP finals since his third-round loss to Nadal at Wimbledon in straight sets which, he says, he had to overcome feelings of being "starstruck''.
"The potential is there, so it's a matter of putting together all the elements,'' Nadal, the Brisbane International top seed, said.
"It is important to be consistent in the results and that's probably the first real challenge. It is always nice to see up-and-coming players, and Australia has a huge tennis tradition.''
Last January in Brisbane and Sydney, de Minaur became the youngest man since an 18-year-old Nadal in 2005 to reach semi-finals in consecutive tournaments on the ATP Tour.
"I think he's very energetic player, very quick,'' Nadal said.
"You go on court (at age 19) with a lot of energy, nothing to lose. If you win two matches, great.
"If you win three, unbelievable. If you lose, it's OK. You have another week coming.''
The hardworking Australian, who was in Brisbane on Tuesday for his start of a Davis Cup squad training camp, said to play Nadal at Wimbledon had been a "bucket list moment''.
"I definitely needed that experience to play someone like Rafa on centre court at Wimbledon,'' de Minaur said
"I learned a lot from that. I was definitely starstruck at the start and I tried to work my way into it. Now, I know what to expect and I was able to do better the next time I played one of the top five guys.''
Always cautious with injuries, Nadal this week announced he would enter a tournament in Spain far down the track in April.
It is a welcome sign that the world No.2 is recovering well from a knee injury and ankle surgery for the 2019 season he plans to start at the Queensland Tennis Centre.
"It's great that guys like that him and (dual Wimbledon champion) Andy Murray are coming to Brisbane, for us Aussies to test ourselves against the best,'' de Minaur said.
De Minaur, ranked No.31, said he was not worried about defending ranking points, to be sure of getting a top-32 seeding for the Australian Open two weeks later. "One of the important things is to take it day by day and I'm trying to get a solid foundation down,'' he said.