Alexei Popyrin rode a scintillating serving performance and a swell of crowd support to clinch the latest upset at the 2023 Australian Open. On Thursday in John Cain Arena, the Australian wild card scored a 6-7(4), 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-2 victory against eighth seed Taylor Fritz to continue the trend of eye-catching results in the early rounds Down Under.
“This is the dream for me, and I don’t want to wake up at all,” he said in an emotional on-court interview. Just before that, he addressed the crowd as they chanted his name: “You guys were just incredible. Oh my god, this is crazy. I really couldn’t have done it without you guys. This win means so much to me.”
JCA stands to salute @AlexeiPopyrin99! Scenes! Limbs!
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 19, 2023
Popyrin faced just two break points in the match — and none until the fourth set — as he edged Fritz in a match of razor-thin margins. After missing out on a match point in the fourth-set tie-break, the Aussie stared down a break point as he served to open the fifth. But he erased it with an ace, one of 19 in the match, before building a 4-1 lead.
He soared through the finish with his fourth break of the match, ripping an inside-out forehand return on his second match point to seal the deal after just over four hours of play. It was his second straight five-setter, with his opening win against Chun-Hsin Tseng clocking in at four hours, 26 minutes.
Just how hot was Popyrin on serve against Fritz? The 23-year-old won all 20 of his service points in the third set and finished with an 87 per cent win rate on his first serve. But there was much more to this match than aces and service winners.
Despite strong serving numbers from both men, there was no shortage of dramatic rallies as the competitors flashed their movement and touch in addition to abundant power. Popyrin’s success in the baseline exchanges helped him pull away in the final set as he trusted his ground game to reach the Melbourne third round for the third time, equalling his best Grand Slam result.
The Top 10 win his the Australian’s fourth overall and his second at a major, after his 2019 AO victory against Dominic Thiem in the second round.
After a difficult 2022 season in which he recorded just five tour-level wins, the World No. 113 already has four such victories this year.
“I had the toughest year last year. I won as many matches this year as I won the whole of last year,” he said. “Preseason I put my head down, I worked as hard as I possibly could. I don’t want that feeling that I had last year ever again. I’m going to keep working, I’m going to keep pushing, I’m going to try to keep going all the way. I like this feeling, and I want more of this feeling.”
With nearly eight-and-a-half hours on court through two matches, Popyrin will now begin his recovery ahead of his intriguing third-round showdown with 20-year-old American Ben Shelton. The former NCAA singles champion advanced with a 7-6(3), 7-6(3), 7-5 win against Nicolas Jarry earlier on Thursday.
In other action, Michael Mmoh upset 12th seed Alexander Zverev 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the third round at a Grand Slam for the first time.
The American, who is just the fifth lucky loser in history to reach the third round in Melbourne, played aggressively throughout the three-hour, 28-minute clash, firing 42 winners to seal his second Top 20 win.
The World No. 107 will next play J.J. Wolf after the American defeated 23rd seed Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 44 minutes.
Zverev was competing in just his second tour-level event since he tore several lateral ligaments in his right foot during his Roland Garros semi-final clash against Rafael Nadal in June.