Glory On Grass: De Minaur Wins Eastbourne Title

Alex de Minaur (photo: @the_LTA/Twitter)

EASTBOURNE/WASHINGTON, June 26, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Saturday’s ATP 250-series Viking International men’s final on grass in Eastbourne, a resort town on England’s southeast coast, featured two of the bright young stars at the ATP Tour in Alex de Minaur of Australia and Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego. Both finalists put on quite a show and the outcome could have gone either way.

In the end, fans were treated to a delightfully wonderful, energetic and entertaining title match that won by the World No. 18 de Minaur, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), in two hours and 40 minutes.

The 22-year-old, No. 2 seed from Sydney had been lights out during the weeklong event at Devonshire Park, not dropping a set, en route to playing for his fifth career ATP Tour title and first on grass. His opponent, No. 3 seed Sonego, at age 26 a bit older, had been just as impressive in beating all comers to reach his second grass-court final.

Throughout their title match, there had been so little between them in this spirited battle of equals filled with plenty of fantastic points. With the score tied at a set each, it would come down to one last set to decide who would be crowned as the Eastbourne champion.

On serve through the first 11 games of the decider – and with no break points but plenty of “C’mon’s” shouted by each competitor after each hold of serve – de Minaur held at 15 to level the final set at 6-all. This Wimbledon tune-up title match would be decided by a tie break. Thank goodness, otherwise they might still be playing this one out.

In the tie break, de Minaur got a mini-break at 3-1 following a mishit forehand by the No. 27 Sonego, after the first three points were each won by the servers. At 3-2, de Minaur held his serve twice for a 5-2 advantage with a chance to serve it out for the title on his next turn. After Sonego held his serve on consecutive points to cut the lead to 5-4, he broke the Aussie to level the tie break at 5-all after de Minaur errantly hit a long return that caused him to wince as soon as the ball left his racquet.

However, de Minaur gained a championship point at 6-5 with a deft backhand volley at the net. Finally, he won the match and the title with an overhead winner at the net that ended a quality, six-shot rally. The final point brought out the best from both players. It was the fifth time this season de Minaur had come back to win a match after losing the first set.

“I had to pull through all my mental strength I had,” de Minaur said during his press conference, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I had to tell myself to try and be a bit more aggressive and go to win that match, not just wait for my opponent to lose it, because he was not going to do that. I am very happy to have played more aggressively in the important points and stay in there, as it was not an easy match. I am happy to have my fifth title.”

There was both relief and delight shown by de Minaur as soon as he hit the final winner, which leveled him at 107 points apiece with Sonego. They shared a warm handshake and embrace at the net after the match was completed and both spoke in complimentary tones during the trophy ceremony that followed.

By the end of the championship match, the fans had been treated to a spirited final that was won by de Minaur for his first 20th win of the year. It was the Aussie’s first grass-court crown and second ATP title of 2021, which raised his ranking to a new career-best World No. 15.

Although de Minaur has long been regarded for his talent on hard courts, in which his first round titles were all on that surface, he’s 8-2 on grass this season. Two weeks ago, he reached the quarterfinal round at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart, then the semifinals at last week’s cinch Championships in London, and now he’s won a title in Eastbourne.

“My first emotion is relief, for finally getting these results, and ecstatic I have been able to pull through and play some good tennis,” de Minaur said. “Every match has helped me confidence wise and strategy wise. Every mach I play, I take little things, what I could have done better, what I want to do next time I am in that position.”

As he posed with his Viking International trophy, in the back of his mind, de Minaur probably realized that his opportunity to celebrate would be short lived. After all, in two days, he will be back on court playing his first-round match at the Wimbledon Championships against another quality opponent, American #NextGenATP star Sebastian Korda. No worries, mate.