Bring the heat: Hewitt says de Minaur won't be daunted by big stage
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Bring the heat: Hewitt says de Minaur won't be daunted by big stage

Lleyton Hewitt believes his protege Alex de Minaur is ready for the pressure of being the country’s top-ranked men’s player at the Australian Open – and the scorching Melbourne heat - and will thrive being "the centre of attention" at Melbourne Park.

Less than 48 hours after winning the Sydney International with two matches in one day, 27th seed de Minaur will begin his grand slam campaign on Monday against Portugal’s 103rd-ranked Pedro Sousa.

Big ambitions: Alex de Minaur begins his Australian Open campaign on Monday against Pedro Sousa of Portugal.

Big ambitions: Alex de Minaur begins his Australian Open campaign on Monday against Pedro Sousa of Portugal.Credit:AP

This time last year the teenager was a relative unknown, having to qualify to win a pass to the main draw as a wildcard. The scenario is dramatically different 12 months later, with the Australian No.1 a headline act and a newly minted ATP title winner.

De Minaur has cast aside the frustration of being scheduled on Monday rather than Tuesday following his weather-affected workload in Sydney, and a gruelling pre-season Davis Cup captain Hewitt put him through has prepared him well for the rigours of his home major.

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Having the former Australian Open finalist in his corner has also been advantageous with so many more eyes on him, but it is a new reality Hewitt says the 19-year-old relishes.

"He handles [the limelight] pretty well," said Hewitt, who is commentating for tournament broadcaster Channel 9 during the Australian Open. "I guess in some ways people still haven’t seen a lot of him because he hasn’t made the headlines as much as [Nick] Kyrgios and [Bernard] Tomic and these kind of guys, even though he has been No.1. But he loves playing in front of a crowd.

"I think he’s the kind of kid who likes playing on the big stage. He won’t be daunted. I think he looks forward to being the centre of attention. I saw that in Davis Cup ... he wanted to be put out there against the big names, he doesn’t shy away from it.

"He would deep down love the opportunity to come up against one of the big guys here."

He may well get that chance. De Minaur is drawn for a likely third-round clash against Rafael Nadal, the Spanish all-time great who gave him a lesson at the same stage of Wimbledon last year.

Before that, though, is a meeting with Sousa, a 30-year-old from Lisbon who has never before played a main draw match at a major.

With the temperature forecast to soar well into the 30s in Melbourne on Monday, de Minaur’s off-season toil should serve him well even if he is backing up from an exhausting conclusion to the event in Sydney. On Saturday during his semi-final in Sydney against veteran Gilles Simon he rose in stature in the hot conditions while his opponent wilted.

"We don’t mind [the heat]," said Hewitt after having a light hit with de Minaur on Margaret Court Arena on Sunday. "He’s playing in the middle of the heat [on Monday] ... and his body is able to bounce back because of the hard work he’s put in ... The balls get pretty lively in the heat too and sometimes you can get a little bit more on your shots as well.

"One thing for sure is he’s had his mind set on the Australian Open and preparing as well as possible for this tournament so he’s going to go out there and give it everything."

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De Minaur and his support team caught a late-night jet out of Sydney on Saturday night to get to Melbourne as soon as possible and aid his recovery. He hopes to ride the wave of his success in Sydney this week.

"It's given me a lot of confidence," de Minaur said. "To be able to do it at my home in front of my friends and family, it's always that much more special.

"Hopefully I can just ride that momentum and keep playing some great tennis here in Melbourne."

Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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