De Minaur won’t be pushed around by big hitter Struff

Ian Chadband |

Australia’s Alex de Minaur believes he’s now better equipped to tackle the power players on clay.
Australia’s Alex de Minaur believes he’s now better equipped to tackle the power players on clay.

Bulked-up but still as fast as lightning, Alex de Minaur won’t be bullied by the big hitters on court any more.

Fed up of being pushed around by the power players, Australia’s No.1 believes his diligent work to put on muscle and get stronger is now at the heart of his run to the third round of his least productive grand slam, the French Open.

And his theory that he’s much harder for the big boys to push around will be put to the most strident test on Saturday against one of the tour’s abiding attacking powerhouses, German Jan-Lennard Struff.

Germany’s veteran powerhouse Jan-Lennard Struff stands in de Minaur’s way. (AP PHOTO)

It’s a big day for Australia with de Minaur and Thanasi Kokkinakis on the hunt to ensure the country has two men in the last 16 in Paris for the first time since Wayne Arthurs and Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.

While Kokkinakis recovers from two inspirational but exhausting late-night, five-set classics and must be a long shot to get past US No.1 Taylor Fritz, the onus is firmly on de Minaur.

But he recognises that in 34-year-old Struff, the ATP’s comeback player of 2023 who’s making a stirring return after a serious hip injury, he faces the acid test of his own carefully-nurtured and growing confidence on clay.

“Struffy’s a very powerful player and takes the ball to you on the clay. It’s probably one of his best surfaces where he’s had his best results, making a Masters final in Madrid (in 2023) and winning in Munich this year.

“He’s just gonna completely take it to me right, so it’s gonna be a battle from the very first point. He’s got a great serve, doesn’t matter what conditions, and he’s obviously going to look to dictate as much as possible.

“So it’s about me trying to not let him dictate and trying to make him run instead.”

De Minaur believes he can pull that off because of his work in building his physical prowess to ensure that, though he’s 10cm shorter and over 20kg lighter than 1.93m, 92kg Struff, he can still nullify the discrepancy in power.

“Physically, I’ve gained a lot of muscle and strength, and because maybe my groundstrokes aren’t probably best suited for clay since I don’t play with too many revolutions on the ball, that’s where the strength comes in.

“It allows me to maintain a pretty strong average rally ball that helps me hurt my opponents and not get pushed around.

“In the past when I was a little bit lighter, I definitely felt the bigger, stronger guys could really push me around and bully me around the court.”

The other reason he believes it’s taken him so long to alter his clay-court stars is his own “experience and mentality”.

“Growing up Aussie, you look at clay in a different way to grass, that’s just pure fact. So you can sometimes get carried away in that thought process instead of just embracing it.

“I used not to be really quite prepared mentally to have a good clay-court swing. I didn’t really think I had it in me, wasn’t prepared for it and didn’t think it suited my game.”

It’s different now and Struff himself, who is 2-3 down in their head-to-head but beat de Minaur in their only clay-court meeting in Monte Carlo, recognises the danger.

“It’s going to be tough, we’ve had tough battles against each other, he’s an amazing player and amazing fighter, known for his fighting spirit,” said Warstein’s world No.41.

“I like Alex as a person as well, he’s a very great guy, a hard-working athlete, a great person, always fun to talk to, and I respect him a lot. He’s made top 10 this year and I’m very happy because he really deserves it.”