Alex De Minaur is the Aussie champion to watch at the Australian Open

"I chase a yellow ball for a living," says Alex De Minaur's self-depreciating Instagram bio, and if 2018 is anything to go by he is doing an impressive job of it. The 19-year-old Australian has had a stellar breakout year. He's beaten top-ranked players Milos Raonic, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, and reached the semi-finals of two consecutive tournaments (Brisbane and Sydney); to become the youngest player to do so since Rafael Nadal in 2005.

At the beginning of 2018 he was ranked No. 208 and has recently reached a career high Association of Tennis Players (ATP) Ranking of No. 31. Alongside his meteoric rise, De Minaur says the year's highpoint was playing for Australia. "The highlight was my Davis Cup debut," he says. "It's always been a dream of mine to represent my country. It's a moment that I'll cherish forever, and it's one of my proudest moments in my career so far."

So, what's changed to make 2018 a dream season for this rising star? "The main difference this year has been my self-belief," says De Minaur. "One of the main things I've been working on is being able to back up week after week. I felt like I've had that really high level, but it didn't come out often enough.

"I've worked with a psychologist for a while now and it's needed," adds De Minaur. "It's a long year, with a lot of travelling, a lot of different places and a lot of tough matches, so it's quite draining mentally and physically. I want to be able to perform every week so my frame of mind is really important. It's about being able to stay in the moment and not look too far ahead or behind, and fighting for every single point."

Standing six-foot-tall, De Minaur's build is long, lean and bronzed from hours spent hitting tennis balls in the sun. Nicknamed the Demon, De Minaur says he's a fighter. "I've been called the Demon for a while, and it reflects my attitude on court. I quite enjoy it," he says.

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The right-handed, two-handed backhand player is earning respect from opponents for his tireless on-court attitude. In September, after hours of tennis, when No. 6 seed Marin Cilic whacked a crosscourt forehand at match point, De Minaur didn't give up. He sprinted from the opposite end of the court, trying to return the ball and stay in the match. But a win wasn't meant to be. "He showed an incredible spirit," Cilic said after the match. "He was playing great tennis, what separated us was a couple points, nothing else."

Described by his coach as humble and fearless, De Minaur says his biggest strengths are his lighting speed and mental game. "To be known for those things is incredible. It means I'm doing a good job, and I have to keep doing what I'm doing, and keep working hard to get better," says De Minaur.

"I'm a hard worker. I do a lot of running on the court – a lot of scrapping. My mental game is one of my biggest on-court strengths. Every single time I step out on court I fight till the end and I treat every point as if it's my last. In the locker room, I want to be known as that guy who is incredibly tough to beat and he's going to leave it out there every single day."

Born in Sydney to a Spanish mother and Uruguayan father, De Minaur speaks English and Spanish. He lived the early years of his life in Australia before moving to Spain. He moved back to Australia in 2012 and currently lives in Spain with his parents and three siblings, but is looking forward to the Aussie summer.

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"I've always felt Aussie and [they] were there to help when I needed it, and I'll be forever grateful," says De Minaur. "That's why I'm so proud to represent my country in the Davis Cup. It was such a huge achievement for me."

De Minaur says he can't wait for the Australian Open. "I'm really looking forward to the tournament," he says. "The support I got this year was unbelievable and I feel next year will be even better. There's nothing better than playing in front of your home crowd and having that support ... it couldn't come any sooner."

Australian Open 2019 runs from January 14-27 at Melbourne Park. Visit ausopen.com.au.