Alexei Popyrin is poised to accelerate up the world rankings after his impressive performance at the Australian Open. It would be a long over due rise for the 23-year-old, who has battled to remain in the top 100 since achieving a career-high rank of 59 back in 2021.
Although Popyrin's run at the Australian Open ended with a straight-sets defeat against American Ben Shelton, the wildcard entrant can hold his head high. Not only was making the third round a significant improvement on his first round exit last year, he also claimed a memorable five-set victory over World No.9 Taylor Fritz.
It was a well-earned high note to start the year on for Popyrin, after a difficult season in 2022. As well as his first round loss at Melbourne Park last year, he also crashed out at Indian Wells and the Miami Open in round one.
Winning the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux on clay in May was enough to briefly elevate Popyrin back into the top 100, but it was a short-lived venture as he once again found himself on the outer heading into 2023. In an interview with Today, Popyrin's girlfriend Amy Pederick gave some insight into the troublesome 12 months.
"It was really tough, mentally - very draining for him and it wasn't easy," she said. "But he stuck through, he grinded, and he pushed through and he trained so hard in pre-season.
"Every single day he was on the court for hours. He tried everything, mentally. He got a new nutrition coach on the team, and I think he has worked so hard to build an amazing team and build that strong support system.
"I think that is what helped him, and he has gone into this year with a very positive mind set. He has had an insane start to the year in 2023. I think big things are coming this year, so I think we should all watch this space. I am incredibly proud."
Popyrin's campaign at the Australian Open isn't over, after he and fellow Aussie Marc Polmans advanced to the second round of the men's doubles.
Alexei Popyrin's sparkling Australian Open campaign
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 Fritz in the second round. After slipping to 113 in the rankings in a difficult 2022 season, Popyrin managed to 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."
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic plans to draw on the experience of taking on Lleyton Hewitt and the Melbourne Park crowd when he faces tennis speed demon Alex de Minaur for his customary spot in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
Unbeaten in Australia for five years and 37 matches, Djokovic, even while seemingly hampered by a hamstring injury, is a warm favourite to progress to the Open's last eight for a 13th time on Monday.
But he certainly won't be the fans' favourite in the fourth-round blockbuster with de Minaur carrying the hopes of a nation as the last Australian standing in the 2023 AO singles draws.
De Minaur needs no added motivation as he chases a place in the quarter-finals of his home slam for the first time but knows having the support of the Rod Laver Arena crowd can be a big factor.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.