Alexei Popyrin has electrified home fans at the Australian Open on Thursday evening after an extraordinary upset win over American eighth seed Taylor Fritz. Playing inside a noisy John Cain Arena at Melbourne Park, the Aussie wildcard rode the wave of home support to prevail 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 in a four-hour epic.
The opening two sets were fiercely contested tussles that both ended in tiebreaks, with Fritz claiming the first and Popyrin the second to leave fans on the edge of their seats. The home faithful were dreaming of an upset when the Aussie wildcard clinched the third stanza to take a decisive two-sets-to-one lead.
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Fritz appeared to be labouring from an ankle injury but brushed off those concerns to take it to the World No.113 in the fourth. Fritz had a chance to serve for the set at 5-3 after grabbing a crucial break but having fought back from 0-30 down, he surrendered the advantage as the Aussie broke right back.
With the raucous home crowd in his corner, Popyrin's serve held firm in the tenth game as the fourth stanza edged towards a tiebreak.
That's how it panned out after both men held serve comfortably, before Popyrin claimed an epic rally early in the breaker to send the decibel levels soaring inside John Cain Arena. Neither player was willing to give an inch as it remained on serve at the change of ends.
A double fault from Popyrin handed Fritz the first sniff and the American took it with a sublime backhand winner down the line. Not to be outdone, Popyrin grabbed the mini-break back after a huge pass of his own, before sending down a booming ace to level the tiebreak at 5-5.
When Popyrin edged ahead to put himself on the cusp of victory, the crowd lifted once again, before letting out a collective sigh as the Aussie's sent a shot crashing into the net. Popyrin went for broke on the next point but his attempted winner sailed wide and another Fritz capitalised after a gruelling rally on the next point that ended with Popyrin's forehand hitting the net and Fritz claiming the fourth set.
The Aussie wildcard grabbed a vital first break in the fourth game of the decider, before consolidating his advantage by jumping out to a 4-1 lead off the back of a massive ace. With Fritz holding serve, Popyrin moved one game away from an incredible win after another dominant game on his own racquet.
Popyrin continued to go for the big winners on Fritz's serve, knowing he had the opportunity to serve it out himself if the tactic didn't come off. But come off it did as the Aussie wildcard converted his first match point chance with a ferocious forehand that the American could only send back into the net.
Home fans lose it over epic Alexei Popyrin win
Fans inside John Cain Arena rose to their feet in a cacophony of noise as the enormity of the win sunk in for Popyrin, who fought back tears on court after the match. The extraordinary scenes left viewers in a frenzy on social media.
The 23-year-old wildcard hammered 19 aces and dropped serve only once in a thrilling and gruelling four-hour, two-minute test of physical and mental will against the in-form eighth seed. Popyrin, who slipped to 113 in the rankings following a difficult 2022 season, upset world No.6 Felix Auger-Aliassime on his way to the Adelaide International quarter-finals this month.
He joined in local fans' chants of "Poppy! Poppy!" as tears flowed after his latest shock. "This win means so much to me," Popyrin said.
"I had the toughest year last year. I didn't win many matches. I've won as many matches this year as I won last year and it's only January."
Popyrin said his strong pre-season preparation had given him belief and the physical capability to stay the course throughout his opening two matches.
"I put my head down and worked as hard as I possibly could," he said. "I don't want that feeling that I had last year ever again.
"That I wrote down to myself in my head and I'm going to keep working, keep pushing and I'm going to try and keep going all the way, man. I love this feeling and I want more of this feeling."
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