Popyrin ends year with three-hour epic against mate

IT was quite the tiring finish for Alexei Popyrin in Brisbane, as the talented 24-year-old overcame compatriot Christopher O’Connell in an epic three set match that lasted more than three hours at Brisbane International. Having only played one match against each other previously – where Popyrin won in straight sets at the Rome Masters last year, they were relatively new to competitive on-court action.

However in an entertaining match that had the Pat Rafter Arena crowd on the edge of its seat, Popyrin stepped up when it counted to win, 6-4 6-7 7-6. The third set tiebreaker was decided at 7-4, with the match coming to a close after an incredible three hours and five minutes.

Both big servers, O’Connell produced a whopping 21 aces without a double fault, winning 72 and 53 per cent of his first and second serve points. Popyrin only had the 12 aces with two double faults, but was superior in making his service points count, winning 81 and 59 per cent of those.

With only three breaks in the game all up, Popyrin’s first decided the opening set, and then the pair only collected one more off each other. Though tiring, the pair really stepped it up in their first match for the new season, and last for the calendar year.

“That’s a battle for the last match of the year,” Popyrin said post-match.

“But what a battle it was. Oaks (O’Connell) played unbelievable and I had to really keep my level high to be able to win this match.

“If I didn’t keep my level, if I didn’t keep my focus, I would have lost this match easy. He played unbelievable and if he continues playing like this, he’ll do big things this summer for sure.”

Only two men’s singles matches took place on day one of the ATP 250 tournament, with Russian Alexander Shevchenko taking out teenage Frenchman Luca Van Assche in straight sets, 6-3 6-2. Shevchenko advanced to the Round of 16 to likely take on top Danish seed Holger Rune who faces local hope Max Purcell today.

The Australians drew particularly poorly in the draw with three All-Australian Round of 32 battles ensuring some carnage. Aleksandar Vukic and Jordan Thompson face off, as does Thanasi Kokkinakis and Rinky Hijikata.

Perhaps the most talked about match will be the clash between Grand Slam champions, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, with the Austrian getting through qualifying to set up the contest. The winner of that will take on either eighth seeded Russian Aslan Karatsev and Australian wildcard Jason Kubler.

Another first round match to watch is second seed Grigor Dimitrov who drew another Grand Slam winner in Andy Murray for his first round match.

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