Hewitt tipping huge US Open for Popyrin

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Lleyton Hewitt is tipping big-stage specialist Alexei Popyrin as the Australian most likely to emerge as Alex de Minaur's chief US Open support act in New York.

After a blistering start to 2021, which included a maiden ATP title in Singapore, wins have been hard to come by in recent times for Popyrin.

But the 22-year-old has shown time and again a rare knack of lifting at the slams, as evident in steely backs-to-the-wall wins over David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, two-times US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta and 2020 champion Dominic Thiem.

Hewitt believes Popyrin can deliver again in the best-of-five-set format in which the former French Open junior champion so thrives.

"Alexei Popyrin, I watched him play in New York first hand a couple of years ago. He played really well there," Australia's Davis Cup captain said on the 20th anniversary of his own US Open triumph.

"Big serve, big forehand. He's got the weapons to play well and and he likes playing on the big stage.

"He plays better against the better players as well, Alexei, so he saves himself for the big matches and the five-set tennis and one thing I've been impressed with over the last couple of years is really when he's been down, he's gone after it more.

"He hasn't been afraid to lay it on the line on the big points and he's actually played himself out of some pretty tough situations where he was match points down.

"But he's done it a few times now so you can't say it's luck."

Popyrin opens against Moldova's Radu Albot on Tuesday AEST, with 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov the highest-ranked obstacle in his quarter.

John Millman, James Duckworth, Astra Sharma and Nick Kyrgios, who faces a stiff challenge against 18th seed Roberto Bautista-Agut, also open their campaigns on day one.

Enjoying his highest grand slam seeding, de Minaur starts on Wednesday against dangerous American Taylor Fritz.

Hewitt is hoping a bout of coronavirus that forced de Minaur out of the Tokyo Olympics hasn't knocked the 14th seed about too much.

"Alex has had a solid year. He would probably have been disappointed with a couple of results in the slams, though, which will push him on to finish the year off really strongly in New York," Hewitt said.

"The US Open surface suits his game, his movement on those courts as well. He's able to make the court feel small for his opponents and he had a breakthrough US Open last year, making the quarter-finals of a grand slam for the first time, losing to the eventual winner in Dominic Thiem in a pretty tight match in the end.

"So that will give him confidence.

"It will just be whether he's got enough matches under his belt after struggling when he got COVID a couple of weeks ago, and just getting that match toughness back in him, which I think he needs as well.

"So the first two rounds are going to be awfully important to him. If he gets confident with his ball-striking, he'll be fine. It's more that match toughness and getting that confidence back and that winning feeling."

Millman opens against Swiss Henri Laaksonen.

"Another Australian who's obviously had really good results as well in New York, beating Roger Federer only a few years ago there," Hewitt said.

"So we've got a bunch of guys who can certainly push towards the second week and that should be their focus."

AUSSIES IN ACTION AT THE US OPEN ON TUESDAY (AEST)

Men's singles, first round

John Millman v Henri Laaksonen (SUI) - 0100

James Duckworth v Pedro Martinez (ESP) - about 0300, followed by

Alexei Popyrin v Radu Albot (MLD) - about 0600

Nick Kyrgios v 18-Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) - about 1100

Women's singles, first round

Astra Sharma v 8-Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) - about 0600

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