Federer dishes ultimate compliment
Alex de Minaur admitted after a straight-sets Wimbledon blowout at the hands of Rafael Nadal last year that he likes the Spaniard … "but I am a Roger Federer fan".
The feeling, it turns out, is mutual.
Federer, in Melbourne to defend his title at this month's Australian Open, spoke glowingly about the teenage star charged with carrying Aussie tennis into a new era.
He didn't want to talk about Nick Kyrgios, or Bernard Tomic.
In an interview with news.com.au, the 20-time Grand Slam winner paid De Minaur the ultimate compliment - he compared him to Lleyton Hewitt.
"I've been watching De Minaur in Brisbane and also in Sydney," Federer said inside a room at Melbourne's Crown Casino.
"I really like what I saw, especially at the US Open when he led (Marin) Cilic two sets to love. He really has a good game that's built to be successful for a long time, like Lleyton Hewitt."
The pair have never faced one another, but they'd clearly like to.
"I'd be interested and intrigued to find out (how we'd match up) if we ever played, but here in Australia I think he'll thrive from the crowd," Federer said.
De Minaur, who's ranking soared from 209 to 29 in 2018, has started the year on fire. On Thursday, he enters a final-eight clash with fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson at the Sydney International.
Federer didn't rank De Minaur among his favourites for the Australian Open, starting Monday. Asked who he thinks will challenge him for the crown, he reeled off a long list of seasoned veterans and the leader of the new breed Alexander Zverev.
"Novak (Djokovic), Zverev, Rafa if he's 100 per cent. I think Stan (Wawrinka) could be a surprise," Federer said. "He's been feeling really good as well."
Other Aussies could surprise, Federer said. He likes John Millman's work ethic and knows first hand how dangerous the world no. 38 can be. Millman dismantled the Swiss star in four sets to end his US Open campaign last year.
The round of 16 loss was the second time in 14 appearances at the US Open that Federer failed to make the quarterfinals.
"John Millman had a big tournament against me at the US Open … he's one of the hardest working guys out there. He can bring it every single practice, every match. That's why he will be successful in the future," the Swiss legend said.
"It's nice to see that Australia has a big, broad group of guys, not just a few guys doing well."
Federer is in Melbourne early to promote a new partnership with Uniqlo after signing a $300 million deal with the Japanese life wear brand.
The move away from Nike after 20 years in partnership sits well with the 37-year-old father-of-four as he considers life after tennis, whenever that will be.
"I'm in a different part of my life today," he said. "It's not just about tennis - it's about family and values. So when Uniqlo knocked on the door I realised there was something really fitting for me.
"I signed the deal without meeting the main person, so the whole thing was based on trust. We're moving really fast but it's fun. They're really open to all of my ideas."
Federer gets creative control over what he wears, and what he doesn't - mostly the colour yellow.
The most important thing, he says, is that he's comfortable on the court. It's one less thing to worry about as he chases down his 21st Grand Slam title and 100th overall starting January 14 at Melbourne Park.