Tired Thiem succumbs to Aussie wildcard 

  • Matt Trollope

The men’s draw at Australian Open 2019 has lost another big name, with Dominic Thiem exiting in the second round to Australian teenager Alexei Popyrin on Thursday.

A day after No.5 seed Kevin Anderson bowed out, seventh seed Thiem trailed the wildcard 7-5 6-4 2-0 before withdrawing from the match.

The stunning result sends the 19-year-old Sydneysider – ranked No.149 – into the third round at a major tournament for the first time, where he will face Lucas Pouille.

"It's never easy winning like this – Domi played a tough first round,” Popyrin told the crowd at Melbourne Arena.

"I just want to thank everyone who came out and supported me today – it's an unbelievable thing.

"I always thought I was in the match, to be honest, but when I won the second set is when that thought really kicked in and that I could actually win the match.”

It was a win that came sooner than expected.

After holding in the first game of the third set, Popyrin brought up break point with a return winner, and converted that when Thiem dumped a tired-looking backhand into the net.

The Austrian – who had been stretched to five sets late on Tuesday night against Benoit Paire in the opening round – shook his head, and conceded defeat.

"I felt very bad during the game, obviously," Thiem said.

"Yesterday after the long match I felt really fine, actually. (But) started to feel like my whole body hurt, general not feeling well at all, and in the match it got worse. Whole body was hurting, I was feeling weak, and there was no sense to continue."

Thiem began showing signs of physical distress early in the second set when he asked for the trainer, telling the umpire he was experiencing fatigue. Medical staff came arrived at the next changeover to offer him paracetamol for soreness and jelly beans for energy.

It’s not clear whether he took them or not, but he seemed to loosen up as the set progressed and began to trouble the young Aussie with the sting in his groundstrokes.

Games were now humming along on serve, with Thiem cruising to a 40-0 lead in the 10th game. Yet Popyrin unleashed his own powerful winners to level at deuce.

Two errors from Thiem followed, and suddenly the teenager had snared the break – and a two-sets-to-love lead.

Whatever the extent of Thiem’s physical woes, there was no denying the intent with which Popyrin arrived at Melbourne Arena. “I live for the big stage … and just (want) to play against a great player on that big stage, really,” he had told Channel 9’s Wide World of Sports before the match. 

It is usually top-10 star Thiem – a Roland Garros finalist last year – winning lengthy, intense slugfests from the back of the court. Yet Popyrin held firm in a taxing ninth game extending seven deuces, surviving four break points in the process.

It sent a resounding message down the other end of the court to Thiem, who dropped serve to love three games later to surrender the opening set.

"I've got a big serve, big forehand, move pretty well for a big man,” said the 196cm Popyrin, when asked to describe his strengths. That was reflected in the stats; he belted 13 aces among 35 winners while keeping his unforced errors to 28.

13 Alexei Popyrin
1 Dominic Thiem

"There are no nerves coming into the matches – just really looking forward to giving my best in the next round and seeing who I play.

"I would like to break the top 100 (this year), and we'll keep going from there. I just want to keep improving, keep getting experiences like this and just the main thing is to keep improving.”

With Thursday night’s win, those goals seem sure bets.