Alex de Minaur has continued his breakthrough 2022 clay-court campaign by battling into the last-16 of the Italian Open in Rome.
The Australian men’s No.1 had to fight to overcome an obdurate opponent in American Tommy Paul but his superiority and growing confidence on the surface eventually told in the 7-5 6-4 victory on Wednesday.
Though the world No.22 eventually made it through in straight sets, Paul dragged out the contest for over an hour and three quarters, fighting for every point in front of a full house at the Foro Italico.
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The 23-year-old de Minaur, who’s made huge strides on the European clay circuit this season with seven victories more than doubling his career tally on the red stuff, found it hard work to keep Paul under the cosh.
The Sydneysider had served for the first set at 5-4 only for the American to scrap to save five set points before breaking de Minaur’s delivery.
The Australian, who felt like he’d effectively had to win that opening set twice, then subdued another Paul comeback attempt when serving for the match.
De Minaur, who’d also beaten Paul on the hard courts of Indian Wells earlier in the year, saved some of his best tennis for the end.
He rescued two break points before producing a dazzling backhand pass, his 24th winner, and then sealing victory on the next point, which he celebrated with a triumphal roar.
Another measure of de Minaur’s improvement on clay will come in his last-16 clash with Alexander Zverev, the second seed who defeated Sebastian Baez 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 earlier on Wednesday to end the Argentine qualifier’s eight-match winning streak.
Zverev and de Minaur have met six times with the German, who’s fresh from reaching the Madrid Open final, holding a 5-1 advantage.
“I’m very pleased, especially coming from Madrid to here,” said Zverev after his 89-minute win.
“It’s not always not easy because Madrid is at altitude and the balls are flying like crazy, but here everything is pretty slow. It wasn’t an easy match and I’m happy with the way I played.”