Teen star faces his biggest test in Melbourne
TODD Woodbridge knew Alex de Minaur had the makings of a champion from the moment he first met him.
It was six years ago when Woodbridge, then Tennis Australia high performance boss, organised a meet and greet at Roland Garros during the French Open.
Then just 12, de Minaur was living back in Spain with his family after growing up in Sydney.
Though born to a Spanish mum and a Uruguayan dad, de Minaur was still very much on Tennis Australia's radar.
He's certainly been flying the Aussie flag in 2018 during hot runs at the Brisbane and Sydney tournaments.
"He came along with his coach, his Spanish coach who didn't speak a word of English, and Alex was the translator," recalled Woodbridge, now a Channel 7 commentator.
"He had great manners, knew how to handle people... it's been so nice to see him maintain that and be able to show it off the court.
"What he's done off the court these past two weeks is just as good as what he's done on it."
Now splitting his time between Spain and Australia - and finishing his schooling on tour - the NSW Blues Origin fan won national under-14 and under-16 titles at Melbourne Park.
He also reached the semi-finals of the 2015 Boys' US Open and was beaten in the Boys' Wimbledon final by current world No.50 Dennis Shapovalov.
"He's always been quite a small kid," Woodbridge said. "Coming through juniors you've got to have great skills. Kids grow at different rates.
"He's always found ways to win. He's always had a great intuition and anticipation of where to be on the court and how to use the whole court
"He's crafty... he's had good slide shots, good volleys.
"He's far more than a one-dimensional player."
De Minaur, who has been working closely with two-time grand slam winner and Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt, has reached the semi-finals in Brisbane - beating Milos Raonic along the way - and Sydney (played last night).
"I didn't really expect to have had a good a run as he has this summer," Woodbridge said
"I knew it was going to happen but I thought maybe another 12 to 18 months
"He's body is still maturing. He's going to fill out more, get more muscle, that will get more speed on the ball
"He's just shown through great attitude, great competitiveness and that skill level he's made that breakthrough now."
De Minaur made his grand slam debut at the Australian Open last year, beating Gerald Melzer in the first round, before losing in straight sets to Sam Querrey.
He was beaten by Robin Haase in the first round of the French Open, lost in the second round of qualifying for Wimbledon, and was defeated by Dominic Thiem in the first round of the US Open.
Mentally "on top of the world", he now faces a huge test in his Australian Open opener, against Tomas Berdych.
"If he were to win that would be quite extraordinary," Woodbridge said.
Even bigger tests are to come, whatever happens next week.
"He's got to go away and keep that momentum," Woodbridge said.
"Sometimes it's harder for a young player once all of the excitement and intensity here in Australia goes. Once you leave our shores you have to keep yourself motivated."
De Minaur started 2017 with a world ranking of 351. He's now 167 and may even close in on Nick Kyrgios as Australia's next great hope.
"We want the likes of Nick and Alex pushing each other," Woodbridge said.
"You look back at my era, (Pat) Rafter, (Mark) Phillipoussis, (Lleyton) Hewitt... that whole group pushed each other to bigger and better things
"We don't want one single next big thing. We need Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, de Minaur... throw into that (Alexei) Popyrin, he's about a year and half behind de Minaur in experience, just hasn't had the exposure yet.
"Keep your eye on him, he's that one that in another 12 months time we'll be having a conversation about."
For now, Kyrgios will be the one to lead the local surge at Melbourne Park, and looks in a great head space after claiming the Brisbane International title - his first on home soil.
The world No.17 faces Rogerio Dutra Silva in the first round
"He performs at his best when he's fresh," Woodbridge said. "He's able to control his emotions. We saw that in Brisbane. The first three matches he loses the first set but then wins the match. Twelve months ago here in Oz that would've been all over
"He's been been away this week relaxing. If he can just do his work and escape the media and other stuff, keep fresh he's going to have a good run
"We're always going to ride the emotional rollercoaster. He'll have his moments where we have to look away but he can be brilliant."