We measure, using an adaptation of a method designed for ceramic ball bearings, the local strength of a brittle second phase that serves to reinforce a metal. The method uses focused ion beam milling and a nanoindentation device, and is free of artifacts commonly present in micromachined specimens. It is demonstrated on Nextel 610 (TM) nanocrystalline alumina fibers embedded in an aluminum matrix composite. Results reveal a size effect that does not follow, across size scales, usual Weibull statistics: the fiber strength distribution differs between measurements at the microscale and macroscopic tensile testing. This implies that, in micromechanical analysis of multiphase materials, highly localized events such as the propagation of internal damage require input data that must be measured at the same, local, microscale as the event; the present work opens a path to this end. (C) 2015 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd.