Alex de Minaur’s French Open run bodes well for charge on Wimbledon grass

<span>Alex De Minaur reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros this year, his best French Open performance to date.</span><span>Photograph: Mateo Villalba/Getty Images</span>
Alex De Minaur reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros this year, his best French Open performance to date.Photograph: Mateo Villalba/Getty Images

If Alex de Minaur is looking for reasons to be optimistic as he tries to overcome the disappointment of narrowly missing out on a place in his first Grand Slam semi-final at Roland-Garros, he might cast his eye over history.

The Australian was beaten 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4 by Alexander Zverev of Germany in a gruelling quarter-final on Wednesday night, edged out by the German in slow, breezy conditions which made it especially hard for him to hit through the court. De Minaur was left to rue a missed set point in the second set but in the coming days, the 25-year-old will swap the dirt for grass, first for a bit of golf to relax and then for the start of the grass-court season.

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If clay and grass might seem to be polar opposites, for De Minaur, what happened in Paris over the past two weeks and his efforts across the entire clay-court season should stand him in good stead. The effect of hitting so many balls, playing so many points and winning so many matches on a surface he used to eye with suspicion cannot be overstated.

“[There is] lots to learn from,” he said. “These are the matches I want to be playing. I think it kind of shows the development and jump I’ve made as a player to be able to come out here and make quarters of my least-favourite surface, showing that I’m ready to take it to whoever and I’m going to give it my best against whoever. Looking forward now to jumping on the grass.”

The omens for a strong run on grass are good. Many players who would not classify themselves as clay-court experts have produced strong, surprising performances at Roland-Garros and then gone on to perform well on grass, and later the same year, hard courts. When John McEnroe won Wimbledon for the first time in 1981, he was coming off a then career-best quarter-final run at Roland Garros; Richard Krajicek reached the semi-finals in Paris in 1996 and won the Wimbledon title a month later; Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter all performed better than expected on clay and then shone on their favourite surface, with Rafter going on to win the US Open in 1997 after making the quarters here. And the German, Michael Stich, came out of nowhere, seemingly, to make the semis in Paris in 1991 and then stunned Becker in the final at Wimbledon. Even Pete Sampras, a duck out of water on clay for most of his career, made the quarters in Paris in 1992, the year he won Wimbledon for the first time.

De Minaur should also take enormous encouragement from the way he played over the past two weeks, reaching his second grand slam quarter-final, four years after his first at the US Open. Serving better, and faster than ever – one serve clocked 216kmh in his fourth-round win over Daniil Medvedev – his willingness to come forward and his ability when he did so also paid dividends, winning 64% of points at the net. Being so battle-hardened after his efforts on clay should bring extra benefits on grass, where the relative slickness of the surface will be to his advantage.

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“I sure hope I’m not running as much on the grass,” he said, smiling. “I’ll do my best to try to dictate a little bit more, and I’m hoping that my ball is going to penetrate a little bit more. I’m excited for the grass, excited to let the surface help me out a little bit out there. It’s always a great part of the season for me, which I’m always looking forward to. We’ll see how it goes this year, because I’ve never gone so deep here in the French, so hopefully that takes a lot of momentum and confidence on to the grass.”

Ninth in the live ATP rankings, equalling his career-high, De Minaur will begin his grass-court season in the Netherlands at the Libema Open before heading to Queen’s Club in London for the cinch Championships and then Wimbledon, where he will hope to exceed his previous best, a run to the fourth round in 2022, when he lost in a final-set tiebreak to Cristian Garin.

First, though, he will swap tennis for golf, another sporting love. “We’ll probably get on the golf course the next couple of days, play some golf,” he said. “The transition for me from the clay to the grass is one that I look forward to every year. At times you probably need time off the tennis court, but the sheer fact that I’m stepping on a grass court, it makes me be in a good place. So I’ll be on the grass on a golf course and on the grass on a tennis court. That’ll be me.”