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Aussie wrap: Popyrin comes back from the brink to oust Goffin

  • Alex Sharp

“Number one. That was number one by far.”

Alexei Popyrin is in no doubt where Tuesday’s heroic first-round Australian Open triumph ranks in his fledging career.

MORE: All the scores from Day 2 at AO 2021

The 21-year-old home charge saved four match points and overturned a break in the decider to reel in 13th seed David Goffin 3-6 6-4 6-7(4) 7-6(6) 6-3.

“Especially against who I played, a top-20 player, top-10 player by level,” said Popyrin, following his maiden five-sets triumph. 

“Also, to save match points against him and beat him in five sets when he's known as like probably one of the fittest guys on tour.”

World No.113 Popyrin, who has reached the Australian Open third round the past two seasons, hopes to eclipse that milestone this summer as reward for his painstaking pre-season efforts.

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Popyrin hung tough, and his persistence was rewarded

“I managed to dig deep. I was telling myself, ‘just take it one point at a time.’ Last week in the lead-up tournament, I saved six match points in the first round (beating Borna Gojo) and then saved some match points against Grigor (Dimitrov) in the second set in the third round. 

“I knew that I was able to do it, just to do it for three out of four matches to start the year is kind of stressing a little bit,” joked the Sydneysider, who faces Lloyd Harris next up.

“I think it just shows that the work I did in pre-season, the mentality that I've taken on this year is all paying off, and my game is improving, and I can feel that.”

MORE: Ash in a flash: Barty bounds into second round

Last year, in-form Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur was “devastated” to withdraw injured from his home Slam.

The 21st seed made up for lost time on Tuesday, harnessing a positive persona to dispatch two-time Melbourne quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren 7-5 6-1 6-1. 

‘Demon’ had a strong rallying cry for his green and gold peers.

“Tennis is an individual sport, but I truly believe what we're doing in Australia, especially in tennis, all the players we've got, we've got so many knocking on the door and so many in the top 100,” enthused the 21-year-old, who faces hot-shot specialist Pablo Cuevas in the second round.

“It definitely does motivate me, because I know that we've got all these teammates pushing top players. It's amazing to see. 

“We've got Chris O'Connell beating his first top-40 opponent in Jan-Lennard Struff, he played an unbelievable ATP Cup. We've got Popyrin, who just beat Goffin. I mean, I think it's truly exciting. Us Aussies, we always seem to play really well here in Australia. Now it's time to kind of hopefully take this momentum with us and go conquer the world.”

As De Minaur mentioned, wildcard O’Connell soared into the second round for the first time with a commanding 7-6(2) 7-6(5) 6-1 victory over world No.37 Struff.

Both Sam Stosur and Thanasi Kokkinakis returned to the second round at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2015.

Stosur navigated past compatriot Destanee Aiava 6-4 6-4 to earn a clash with Victoria Azarenka’s conqueror Jessica Pegula. 

MORE: Inglis stretches defending champion Kenin

“It’s exciting for me,” said the 2011 US Open winner. “The most pleasing thing I guess from whether it's Aussie Opens previous years or just last week, whatever it was, just to be able to bounce back. I'm very happy.”

Meanwhile, Kokkinakis defied his succession of injuries to make an impact on the Grand Slam stage once again

The 24-year-old put in an accomplished 6-4 6-1 6-1 display against South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon, being greeted by a rapturous applause from the locals.  

“It’s a massive relief. It was a great experience, had lots of friends and family down watching,” said Kokkinakis, having last featured at the majors at US Open 2019 before injury struck again and another long rehab ensued.

“That energy, that crowd after so much work behind the scenes, so much pain. It was definitely emotional, especially at home in Australia.

“It’s just persistence, massive ups and downs I’ve been through mentally.”

With his Greek connection, Kokkinakis knows fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas very well, predicting a “rowdy” second round for their meeting on Thursday. 

Unfortunately for home hopes, Jordan Thompson was forced to retire trailing Norwegian Casper Ruud by two sets.

World No.76 Nao Hibino overturned a strong start by Australian wildcard Astra Sharma for a 2-6 6-3 7-5 scoreline.  

Feliciano Lopez, in a record-extending 75th-consecutive Grand Slam, was pushed by Australian wildcard Li Tu 6-7(1) 6-4 7-6(4) 6-4. 

Russia’s 19th seed Karen Khachanov had too much firepower in a finely-poised 6-3 6-7(4) 7-6(2) 6-4 battle with another Aussie wildcard, Aleksandar Vukic.

The returning Daria Gavrilova, having overcome chronic foot injuries, booked a second-round ticket with a 6-1 7-5 passage past Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in the final match of Day 2.

Next up comes an intriguing all-Aussie clash with world No.1 Ash Barty