Popyrin roars back after being fed 'bagel'

·3-min read

Alexei Popyrin demonstrated the sort of resilience his hero Lleyton Hewitt would have been proud of, battling back from a 6-0 first set drubbing to fight his way into the Monte Carlo Masters second round.

The 21-year-old Australian had looked all at sea on the red clay against Spanish grinder Pablo Andujar but eventually out-survived the man they call 'the Survivor' to win Tuesday's two-hour clash 0-6 6-2 7-6 (7-3).

Popyrin's resilient effort, which also saw him roar back from 3-0 down in the deciding tiebreak, ensured Australia will have three men in the last-32 at the Monte Carlo Country Club.

Jordan Thompson will meet the reigning champion Fabio Fognini, after the Italian beat Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2 7-5 on Tuesday, while John Millman tackles Chilean Cristian Garin, who beat the Toni Nadal-coached Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Popyrin's second-ever tour-level win on clay, though, took pride of place in Tuesday's action at the Monte Carlo Country Club.

He again showed he wasn't just paying lip service to his hero Hewitt when he said after his breakthrough Singapore Open triumph in February that he wanted to follow the former world No.1's never-say-die attitude.

Having had to make it through two qualifiers into the main draw, world No.83 Popyrin looked the novice on clay he still is, being completely outmanoeuvred by the 35-year-old veteran in the opening set.

Popyrin had only ever previously won one tour-level match on the red stuff and, with first serve misfiring badly and his firepower being scattered wildly, Andujar dished out a first-set 'bagel' in just 24 minutes.

Yet the attacking Popyrin took the first eight points of the second set as he raced into a 3-0 lead he never looked like relinquishing.

Getting his early-season game back to the level which saw him carve out an 11-4 record on hard courts this year, he saved four break points en route to taking the second set which he annexed with a glorious drop shot.

Putting Andujar on the back foot in the decider, 'Poppy' had a 3-1 lead which was pegged back, and also had a break point for a 5-3 advantage, only for the Spaniard to keep living up to his nickname.

In the tiebreak, Andujar's experience looked set to prevail but Popyrin played a blinder, reeling off six straight points before the Spaniard made it a calamitous seventh when serving a double at match point down.

Popyrin will next play Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who won a five-set thriller between the pair at the Australian Open two years ago.

Thompson has his work cut out against flamboyant 15th seed Fognini, who powered into the second round with 27 winners.

The Italian won on the Riviera in 2019, beating 11-time champion Rafael Nadal on the way and is defending the crown after last year's tournament was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Rising Italian teenager Jannik Sinner, runner-up in Miami recently, beat 2017 runner-up Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3 6-4 to set up a mouth-watering date with Novak Djokovic, who'll be playing for the first time since winning his ninth Australian Open title in February.

Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas got through his tricky opening test with a 6-3 6-4 victory over the season's biggest surprise packet Aslan Karatsev.

Earlier, second-ranked Daniil Medvedev withdrew from the first major clay tournament of the season following a positive COVID-19 test.