Australia’s greatest male representation at its own grand slam in 26 years has been ravaged in the space of just five days.
The country entered the Australian Open with an astonishing 14 players in the men’s singles draw, coming on the back of nine sitting inside the top 100 in the world rankings.
Both feats had not been achieved since 1998 and raised hopes that multiple home heroes could push to reach the second week.
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Instead just one Aussie remains in the draw after Thanasi Kokkinakis’s defeat on Thursday night rounded out Australia’s second-round action.
The 27-year-old fought his way back into the contest but rejuvenated veteran Grigor Dimitrov was ultimately too good in a 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4 victory.
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Alex de Minaur is now the last man standing ahead of his third-round match with Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli to be played on Friday night.
The potential for a full set of Australian wins across the opening days was cruelled immediately when Aussies were drawn to play each other in two first-round matches.
But several more were simply outshone at Melbourne Park, even when they put it all on the line.
Max Purcell will rise back up to 42nd in the world after reaching the second round but for now is left to rue just how close he came to joining de Minaur in the third round.
The 25-year-old made life difficult for three-time grand slam finalist Casper Ruud on Thursday, only for the Norwegian to triumph 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 3-6 7-6 (10-7) in a thriller.
“I do play a game that can kind of trouble anyone,” Purcell said.
“In saying that, there are obviously still some lower-ranked guys that beat me.
“I’ve just got that kind of game style that disrupts rhythm.
“Anyone on an off day is going to struggle against me.”
Max Purcell went within a whisker of what would have been a career-best win at the Australian Open. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP
Alexei Popyrin, Jordan Thompson, Rinky Hijikata, Christopher O’Connell and Jason Kubler all also came up short against higher-ranked opponents this week.
Purcell, though, said there is still plenty to celebrate with a full season to come.
“We’re all just kind of finally where we want to be in our careers, top 100, playing in the big tournaments,” Purcell said.
“Now we have a little bit more freedom with schedule and with coaches, with physios and all that.
“In saying that, everyone is then pushing to be ranked higher than the other one. Everyone is playing good ball.
“That’s part of the reason why I think I’ve done well is because all these other guys have started to do well.
“Everyone’s had a few heartbreaks this week against some good players but, man, that’s tennis.
“Everyone gets unlucky. Everyone gets luck somewhere else throughout the season. That’s just how it goes.”
De Minaur is the last Aussie male standing at the Australian Open. Credit: AAP
Kubler, Hijikata, Marc Polmans, Dane Sweeny, James Duckworth, Aleksandar Vukic, Adam Walton, Omar Jasika and James McCabe all earned $120,000 in prize money after being eliminated in the first round.
Purcell, Kokkinakis, Thompson, O’Connell and Popyrin secured $180,000 for making the second round.
De Minaur is up to $255,000 for his third-round appearance and will secure a $375,000 cheque if he can make it to the fourth round.
Prize money soars from there to $600,000 for a quarter-final berth and $990,000 for the losing semi-finalists.
The Australian Open champion will win $3.15 million and the runner-up leaves Melbourne with $1,725,000.
Ash Barty urges Alex de Minaur to cash in on Aussie support
Two years after Barty became the first local woman since 1978 to win the Australian Open women’s singles crown, de Minaur is striving to become the first home hope in almost half a century to claim the men’s championship.
The Norman Brookes Challenge Cup has eluded the likes of former world No.1 stars Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt, and Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, since unseeded underdog Mark Edmondson upset countryman John Newcombe in the 1976 final.
Now it’s de Minaur carrying the hopes of a nation after the 24-year-old raised excitement levels with his rousing start to the summer.
Watershed wins over 10-time champion Novak Djokovic, world No.2 Carlos Alcaraz and the sixth-ranked Alexander Zverev preceded two more victories to open his Melbourne Park campaign.
Barty is imploring the fan favourite to embrace the hype and enjoy the moment, like she did during her inspired run to the women’s title in 2022, rather than feel any burden or pressure of expectation.
Barty is now two years removed from her Australian Open title and says it’s time for de Minaur to shine. Credit: Getty
“It’s unique, but it’s fun. It’s fun to be able to play here when you feel like you’re playing your best tennis and trying to do that at home,” the retired former world No.1 told AAP.
“Yes, there’s noise but it’s almost an illusion that there’s the expectation but more than anything it’s excitement from the public.
“People want him to do. They want him to be there at the end of the tournament and that’s not a expectation.
“That’s just an excitement of people getting caught up in the moment and it’s fun.
“You have to ride with it and you have to enjoy it because you blink and it’s not there any more.”
Barty believes de Minaur’s engaging personality and high-octane playing style has the world No.10 ideally placed to roll with feverish home support.
“He really loves to interact with the crowd,” she said.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s always had that relationship with the crowd and feeds off it, loves it. And they love receiving that energy from him as well.
“So hopefully he can work his way into the tournament and then it gets really fun in the second week.
“I just hope that he can stay healthy and play well, play his best stuff and there’s no reason then why he can’t have a great tournament.
“Whether that’s a third round, a quarter-final or win a semi, it doesn’t actually matter.”
– with AAP