Budding pro Cruz Hewitt has enjoyed a special start to the Australian Open training alongside US Open champion Dominic Thiem and freshly minted top-10 star Alex de Minaur at Melbourne Park.
Cruz, the 15-year-old son of tennis legend Lleyton Hewitt, is rising through the ranks in the hopes of following in his father’s footsteps.
He spent the final months of 2023 moving between the junior and men’s ITF circuits, winning three titles on the former.
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Cruz is yet to qualify for a main draw of a men’s tournament, having fallen at the final hurdle twice, but has received an early boost in his bid to improve in 2024.
The teenager spent time on the practice court with de Minaur on Tuesday, sending down serves together before taking on some pointers from one of the ATP Tour’s most improved players.
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Lleyton, Australia’s Davis Cup captain, was on hand to help both through the session.
A day earlier the younger Hewitt, a notable presence during Australia’s United Cup campaign last week, hit with Thiem indoors at Melbourne Park.
Alex de Minaur and Cruz Hewitt shake hands after their session on Tuesday. Credit: Kelly Defina/Getty ImagesCruz hit with Dominic Thiem on Monday. Credit: Instagram
A much younger Cruz had a session with Jannik Sinner before the 2020 Australian Open when the Italian star was an 18-year-old ranked just inside the world’s top 100.
And the Aussie himself could yet make an unlikely playing debut at Melbourne Park this month.
He is on the acceptance list for the Australian Open boys’ singles tournament but will need several withdrawals to make the cut for qualifying.
The senior Hewitt reached the second round of the junior event in 1996 and famously went much further in 1997.
The then 15-year-old received a wildcard into men’s qualifying and upstaged former world No.80 Mark Petchey to reach the main draw.
Kicking off a 20-year run of appearances at the Australian Open, Hewitt was beaten by two-time French Open champion Sergi Bruguera in the first round.
Pat Rafter pinpoints key change in ‘real deal’ Alex de Minaur
Tennis great Pat Rafter believes the hype for Alex de Minaur is real and that Aussie No.1 can reach the Australian Open final.
Excitement is growing as de Minaur enters the season-opening grand slam boasting United Cup wins over Taylor Fritz, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev.
The three prized scalps have catapulted the 24-year-old into the world’s top 10 for the first time ahead of the Melbourne Park major starting on Sunday.
Former world No.1 Rafter sat down with de Minaur last year when he was looking for ways to turn his five fourth-round and solitary quarter-final major appearances into something more.
Two-time US Open champion Rafter, who lost two Wimbledon finals and reached the final four in Melbourne once, reckons de Minaur has finally figured it out.
“The match he played against Zverev, I thought, hang on, this kid’s starting to really get it,” Rafter told AAP.
“To beat Zverev when he’s at his top and now he’s top 10. To only reach one quarter by now, that surprises me.
“I thought he would have done better than that and I think that starts now, semis, finals, definitely.”
Alex de Minaur is into the world’s top 10 ahead of the Australian Open. Credit: Getty
It’s a marker de Minaur is determined to reach.
“That will be the dream, that’s for sure,” he said in Melbourne on Monday.
“All the work that I put in, ultimately it comes down to performing at the slams and going deep at the slams.
“That’s been a goal of mine for a while now, trying to push in, push second week of slams and deep end of these tournaments and it’s exactly where I want to be.
“I’ve had a great prep and hopefully I can show the same level I have when the tournament starts. Not just to do it in two-set matches, to bring it for a whole four, five hours if need be.”
De Minaur has been fuelled by doubters who say he hasn’t got the weaponry to compete with the sport’s very best.
But Rafter doesn’t think de Minaur’s strides have been made by him getting any stronger.
“If anything he’s probably just become a fraction more patient,” he said.
“He’s backing himself a bit more. Not making as many mistakes, backing himself a bit more to stay in rallies.
“Alex has tried to step up and hit the ball really hard, really big. I think he just needed to take that step back and be a fraction more patient.”
Lleyton Hewitt (left) congratulates Alex de Minaur for his United Cup win over Taylor Fritz. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP
Hard-working de Minaur puts his latest rise down to his “mentality and mindset”.
“Of course, I’ve added little improvements here and there to my game,” he said.
“I’ve gotten a little bit stronger. I’m playing a little bit more aggressive, with a bit more variety. But ultimately, a lot is belief: believing in myself, believing that I am good enough to beat these guys and proving it.”
De Minaur leads a pack of 10 Australians inside the world’s top 111, a feat not matched since eight Aussies including Rafter finished 1998 inside the top 100.
That year Rafter, Mark Philippoussis, Jason Stoltenberg, Richard Fromberg, Scott Draper, Andrew Ilie, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge were all inside the world’s top 60.
“We felt it and we had so much fun; these guys don’t know how much fun we had,” Rafter said.
“We looked after each other, pushed each other.”