Alex De Minaur has grown fond of Britain through his relationship with girlfriend Katie Boulter but is gunning to lead Australia to victory in Davis Cup on Wednesday.
The likely match-up between world number 12 De Minaur and British number one Cameron Norrie at Manchester’s AO Arena could well be crucial in determining who gets off to the perfect start in this week’s group stage.
Born in Sydney, De Minaur has also spent a lot of his life in his mother’s home country of Spain, but his passion for Australia burns brightly, particularly when Britain are the opponents.
“There’s years and years of history of rivalry between the two nations,” he told the PA news agency.
“With Katie, I’ve got to spend a little bit more time here in the UK and I’ve been able to get to know a couple of the Brits a little bit better.
“We always give each other a little bit of crap if our nation wins. It’s always a great competitive spirit between us.
“Katie’s shown me around. I’ve found a lot of spots that I quite enjoy so it’s been great, especially when the weather’s good. There’s a lot of similarities with Australia.
“A big thing for me is coffee. They love their coffee here as well, the breakfast places are kind of the same vibe. And one thing that I didn’t have growing up in Australia or Spain is the countryside. I’ve grown really fond of the greenery.”
De Minaur is Australia’s ace in the pack and arrives in Manchester in the best form of his career having reached his first ATP Masters final in Canada before making the fourth round of the US Open to climb to the brink of the top 10.
Among the 24-year-old’s victims in Toronto was Norrie, extending his run of victories against British players to eight from the last nine matches.
De Minaur played down the significance of that result, saying: “I think Davis Cup is completely different. Every time we play it’s been a battle, even when we practise it goes one way or the other.
“It’s always going to be a toss up but I’m looking forward to the challenge and hopefully I can lift my level and play some good tennis.
“I’ve played some great tennis over the last couple of months and I’m really happy with where my level is at. It’s going to be a very good test this group stage, a lot of very good players. Hopefully I can bring it all together and perform.”
De Minaur is the highest-ranked player in Manchester but there are decisions to be made for both British captain Leon Smith and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt over who joins him in the tie.
Norrie has struggled for the past few months and has a patchy Davis Cup record but it would be a surprise if he does not play, with Dan Evans, Andy Murray and 21-year-old Jack Draper also in contention.
G'day, Manchester 👋
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) September 11, 2023
Evans is favourite to partner Neal Skupski in doubles, where Australia have former Wimbledon champions in Matt Ebden and Max Purcell.
Purcell could well get the nod to play singles after shooting up the rankings this season from outside the top 200 to 43, while Jordan Thompson and Thanasi Kokkinakis are Hewitt’s other options in the absence of the injured Nick Kyrgios.
In Britain’s favour will be the home crowd. The event has been well-promoted and around 8,000 people are expected for Wednesday’s tie and Friday’s meeting with Switzerland, while Sunday’s clash against France has sold out and will be played in a front of more than 13,000 fans.
“It’s great, ultimately that’s what Davis Cup is about,” said De Minaur. “We’re going to play the Brits in front of their home crowd so rightfully they’ll have amazing crowd support and it should be a great environment. I’ll be very happy to be a part of it.”
Australia certainly have reason to feel they are the favourites given the form of their players and their run last year, when they made it all the way to the final before losing to Canada.
Asked if they can go one further this time, De Minaur said: “That’s the dream. Last year gave us a lot of hunger and fire and desire to really be able to accomplish this as a team.
“I think we showed what a team can do when they have each other’s back because on ranking we weren’t supposed to be a contender. We came together and we showed what it meant to play for Australia.
“We’ll do everything we can to do that but it starts here, we’ve got a very tough group and we’ve got to try and get out of here alive.”
The top two teams from the group will move on to the finals week in Malaga in November.
— Stanislas Wawrinka (@stanwawrinka) September 12, 2023
Stan Wawrinka criticised the sparse crowd for Switzerland’s opening defeat against France on Tuesday.
The weakness of the change of format away from home-and-away ties is the lack of atmosphere for matches not involving the host nation and only a handful of spectators were there to see the start of play.
“Thank you @3gerardpique @ITFTennis! @DavisCup France vs Switzerland in Manchester lol,” wrote three-time grand slam champion Wawrinka on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.
Former Barcelona star Gerard Pique instigated the change to the format following the ill-fated takeover by his Kosmos group in 2018, which collapsed earlier this year.
Adrian Mannarino came from a set down to defeat Dominic Stricker 3-6 6-1 6-3 before Wawrinka’s 6-4 6-4 loss to Ugo Humbert sealed victory for France.