AUSTRALIAN Alexei Popyrin admitted he could not have survived his incredible four-and-a-half-hour slog with Chinese Taipei’s Chun-Hsin Tseng without the Melbourne Park support. Moved onto John Cain Arena after excessive heat, and then rain delays wreaked havoc at the Australian Open, Popyrin was on court until 2am before he could finally rest, winning 4-6 7-6 6-7 7-6 6-1.
The first round match lasted four hours and 26 minutes, and involved three consecutive tiebreakers as the Aussie struggled to break his opponent’s serve. Though Tseng was consistent across his serve, it was Popyrin who powered down 31 aces and a whopping 89 winners to set up a second round match with American Taylor Fritz.
“A bit emotional, I feel a few tears coming now I don’t know why,” Popyrin said post-match. “The adrenalin is kicking in. I’m exhausted but that was a physical battle and a mental battle too. I just tried to mentally stay in the match, I had so many break points and only breaking twice. But that was a physical battle in the end in that fifth set and the work that I did in the off-season this year is paying off.”
Popyrin is coming off a strong start to the 2023 calendar year, with a quarter finals appearance at the Adelaide International, which included a straight sets win over Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. Though his Adelaide campaign came to an end at the hands of Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, the Aussie was able to kick-start his home Grand Slam with a hard-fought victory.
Popyrin is familiar with Tseng, and knew that it would be a tough slog throughout the late hours to get it done. Admitting his opponent was “really, really solid”, he had to play the way that suited him, and in the end it was enough.
“(I hit) probably 86 winners and a 105 unforced errors, but you know what?? I just had to stick with my game. I’ve trained with him, I’ve played with him since I was 14/15 years-old,” Popyrin said. “I’ve seen him come up and I know how solid he is from the back. He’s such a good player, such a good guy and I know I’ve won a baseline game against him so I knew that wasn’t the way to win this match. Just had to stay on my game, serve, play big and hope for the best.”
After catching his breath, Popyrin said the crowd had enabled him to keep fighting even when the going got tough.
“I wanted just to thank each and everyone of you for staying until 2am, that’s incredible,” he said. “I honestly couldn’t have done it without you too. I know it’s a bit cliche, but honestly at 2am I’m usually asleep for four hours at this time. Never played this match late, I’ve never played a match this long, and to have you guys on my back really, really help me with that win and helped me physically get through the match.”
Popyrin takes on Fritz tomorrow in what is predicted to be a huge clash for the Australian rising talent.