'I was on a mission against Rafael Nadal, but it slipped away,' young gun recalls

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'I was on a mission against Rafael Nadal, but it slipped away,' young gun recalls

The young Aussie Alex de Minaur was among the players to beat in 2019, winning three ATP 250 titles and cracking the top-20 in the season's closing stages. Alex kicked off the 2020 campaign with victories over Alexander Zverev and Denis Shapovalov at the ATP Cup at home in Australia.

He gathered a boost and gave his 120% against world no. 1 Rafael Nadal in the semi-final tie between Australia and Spain. Alex had the upper hand in the opening two sets and still suffered a heartbreaking 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 loss in two hours and 13 minutes.

De Minaur gathered momentum after the epic clash against Great Britain two days earlier and threw everything he had in his arsenal at the world's leading player in sets one and two. They served above 70%, and Rafa played better on the first serve, while Alex had the advantage on the second.

Rafael Nadal and Alex de Minaur battled at the 2020 ATP Cup.

The Spaniard suffered two breaks from only three chances offered to the Aussie. Nadal delivered four return games (three in the decider) to cross the finish line first and celebrate the victory for his country.

It was the worst start for world no. 1, spraying a forehand error in the first game and losing serve at 15. Alex never put a foot wrong in front of the home fans. He stayed aggressive and controlled the pace behind the initial shot to take the opener 6-4 following a forehand down the line winner in the tenth game.

Having to give his best to stay in touch with an inspired opponent, Rafa dropped six points behind the initial shot in set number two and challenged Alex to repeat those numbers. The youngster could not survive until the tie break, sending a backhand long in game 12 to hand the set to Rafa, who gained a massive boost.

With the drive on his side, Nadal took 14 of the first 15 points in the decider and earned four straight breaks to seal the deal and send Spain into the final against Serbia. "In a way, I was a man on a mission against Rafael Nadal, and it slipped away.

It was bittersweet, the feeling. But it also taught me a lot. It showed a different side of my game and a side not many people expected or thought I had. It was good to prove I'm versatile enough to come out swinging if needed.

Let's say it's been haunting me for a while now. I'm trying to leave it in the past, but it was a very tough blow. I mean, you do all the preseason and hard work to try and put on the best possible show you can in front of your home fans.

That was very disappointing; obviously, this situation did not help. The shutdown has been a very tough blow, but I have tried to put it in the past and use it as motivation and find confidence in how I played. Hopefully, I can pick up where I left off," Alex de Minaur said.