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Men's wrap: Popyrin, Mmoh stage emotional upsets on Day 4

  • Dan Imhoff

Men's singles second round

The tears welling in Alexei Popyrin's eyes as a heaving John Cain Arena crowd chanted his name spoke volumes of a career-defining victory.

Moments after sealing a 6-7(4) 7-6(2) 6-4 6-7(6) 6-2 upset over eighth seed Taylor Fritz, the 23-year-old Australian could not help but join in conducting an impromptu chorus of "Poppy, Poppy, Poppy".

He did not want this day to end.

His match shirt pulled briefly over his face bought time to gather his composure as the emotions set in.

This four-hour, two-minute triumph came on the back of a four-hour, 26-minute survival act against Tseng Chun-Hsin in the opening round.

MORE: All the scores from AO 2023

"Oh my God, this is crazy," Popyrin said. "This win means so much to me. I had the toughest year last year, didn't win many matches.

"I won as many matches this year as I won the whole of last year."

"Pre-season I put my head down and worked as hard as I possibly could," he said. "I don't want that feeling I had last year ever again and I wrote that down to myself and in my head.

"I'm going to keep working, I'm going to keep pushing, I'm going to try and keep going all the way. I love this feeling and I want more of this feeling."

It had been a torrid 12 months getting to this point.

After a maiden tour title in Singapore in 2021, Popyrin plummeted outside the top 100 last season.

The appointment of former top-20 Belgian Xavier Malisse to his coaching team came with a renewed outlook, a resolve to work harder and a mindset to never take his promise for granted again.

"The work we've put in this preseason, the work we put in last year also," Popyrin said. "Even when things weren't going well, this is a dream for me and I don't want to wake up at all."

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Fritz was rightly mentioned as a genuine title threat after a strong finish to last season and as an integral part of the US United Cup victory leading in.

In his first major as a top-eight seed, however, he was unable to atone for an opening-round departure from his previous major showing at Flushing Meadows.

Popyrin avenged a hard-court defeat from Washington last year, walloping 33 forehand winners and 19 aces past the 25-year-old to set an unlikely clash with another American, 20-year-old Ben Shelton.

Despite Fritz's exit, it was a strong day for the USA as Michael Mmoh, JJ Wolf, Tommy Paul and Jenson Brooksby all advanced.

READ: Americans a force to be reckoned with at AO23

Only days ago, lucky loser Mmoh was packing his bags for the return trip stateside after falling to Alexander Vukic in the final round of qualifying.

A late call-up to the main draw had the world No.107 counting his blessings as he backed up a five-set win over Laurent Lokoli with a 6-7(1) 6-4 6-3 6-2 victory over 12th seed Alexander Zverev on Thursday.

It is the German's first major since suffering a serious ankle injury at Roland Garros last June.

The win set an all-American showdown with Wolf in Mmoh's first venture to the third round of a major.

"Right when you think everything is looking dim, everything is looking dark there's light at the end of the tunnel and my week is proof of that," Mmoh said.

"I could easily have been in the States right now. I was ready to go, I was packing my bag, I had my flight booked, I was actually supposed to leave yesterday morning."

Michael Mmoh (Getty Images)

Having spent countless Christmases Down Under with his mother's side of the family, Mmoh paid tribute to a contingent of his Australian cousins cheering on from the stands.

"I feel like I'm half Australian because of them," he said.

"This is obviously the biggest win of my career, hands down. I definitely felt the nerves a little bit.

I felt like I settled down at the end of the first but at that point I was telling myself I shouldn't even be here…

"The last thing I wanted to do was not go for it when I had the chance."

Backing up a comfortable win over former world No.3 Dominic Thiem, fifth seed Andrey Rublev steadied to shut the door on Emil Ruusuvuori's temporary surge.

Amid swirling winds, the 25-year-old prevailed 6-2 6-4 6-7(2) 6-3 to set a third-round showdown with Briton, Daniel Evans.

Ninth seed Holger Rune maintained his impressive start to the tournament, posting his second straight-sets victory from as many matches to deny American Maxime Cressy.

The Dane advanced 7-5 6-4 6-4 to land a third-round meeting with Frenchman Ugo Humbert.