“That’s the standard I need to bring,” de Minaur said post match.
“I knew the task at hand and I knew if I was going to hurt Rafa, I was going to have to play like that.
“It’s a tough one because I feel I was very close. A couple of points in the second set. I just went until my legs couldn’t go anymore.”
The pictures of the Australian No. 1 in the tunnel pre-match told the story.
He could not stand still. The 20-year-old was a 70kg ball of energy. He played like that as soon as he stepped onto the court.
De Minaur broke Nadal in the first game of the match. Blink and you’ll miss it.
He wasn’t going to give that break back.
The world No. 1 had no answers. He made an uncharacteristic 11 unforced errors but was generally overpowered by de Minaur.
His winner count more than doubled Nadal in the first set – 14 to 6. You don’t see that very often.
De Minaur was taking Nadal’s trademark topspin groundstrokes early, and regularly mashing them down the line, with both remarkable power and consistency.
He was also returning Nadal’s first serve at 76 per cent, often creeping in to ensure he was immediately on the offensive.
De Minaur was in the zone. The enormity of what he was doing had not yet dawned on him as he claimed the first set, 6-4.
To everyone else in Ken Rosewall Arena, it was extraordinary to watch de Minaur take it to a player 13 years his senior. A player who has earned more than $116 million more in prizemoney. A player who has 84 career titles. A player who has 19 Grand Slam titles. A player who will be remembered as one of the best three to ever pick up a racquet.
To de Minaur, Nadal was just another opponent.
In the second set, de Minaur kept crunching the ball. He stayed on the front foot.
There were no nerves.
If anything, it was the Spanish camp that looked concerned as de Minaur took the match to the best player in the world.
They had good reason to be concerned.
But Nadal took the one break point opportunity he had in the entire match – in de Minaur’s final service game – as the top Australian seed tried to send the second set to a tiebreak.
The fatal blow soon followed.
De Minaur was broken to love in his first game of the third set.
He lost the point of the match trying to stave off another break point up 3-0.
Nadal raised his fist towards the Team Spain corner. Just 13 minutes later, he’d emerged victorious.
Spain will face Serbia in Sunday night’s inaugural ATP Cup final.
Before the three set defeat, de Minaur had four wins from 17 matches against top 10 opponents. One of them was earlier in the ATP Cup, against Alexander Zverev.
Two of the other four came against the man that thumped Nick Kyrgios in the first match of the night to suck the life out of Ken Rosewall Arena – Roberto Bautista Agut.
None of the wins were against players like Nadal.
None of the wins were on a similar stage.
But this was a performance which signalled one of those wins is not far away.
It may come at Melbourne Park. It may be later this year. But it won’t be long until de Minaur is a top 10 player himself.
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.