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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday May 5, 2021

 
Alexei Popyrin

Alexei Popyrin continues to display fantastic form in 2021, and he has earned a showdown with Rafael Nadal in Madrid.

Photo Source: Getty

The ATP Tour is full of rising talents, aged 21 and under. Jannik Sinner, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Carlos Alcaraz, Lorenzo Musetti, Sebastian Korda—maybe we need to add Australia’s Alexei Popyrin to that list.

Tennis Express


Today the 21-year-old Aussie, who is the sixth-youngest player in the ATP's Top 100, proved why he’s a player to watch in Madrid when he knocked off Italy’s Jannik Sinner, 7-6(5), 6-2 to set up a third-round encounter with Rafael Nadal on Thursday at Madrid.

Popyrin, playing just his 12th ATP match on clay, is bristling with confidence after two rounds of qualifying and two main draw wins, which places him in the round of 16 at a Masters 1000 for the first time in his career.


“I'm just going to go out and have fun,” Popyrin said of the challenge of facing the King of Clay. “He's the greatest of all time on clay court. I would have preferred to play him maybe on grass or hard court, but that's not the chance here. I've got to play him and on his favorite surface and, you know, he's the greatest of all time on this surface and one of the greatest of all time ever.”

Popyrin said he might go back to watch tape of one of Nadal’s two losses at Roland-Garros—the one in 2009 against Robin Soderling—in order to get prepared for the challenge, and to remind himself of the type of tennis that will be necessary against Nadal.

Channeling Soderling

“I'm just going to go out there, have fun, going to put a little bit of tactics, maybe watch a little bit of his 2009 loss against Soderling,” he said with a smile. “Maybe I can get some tips from there. Other than that, you know, I'm just go out there and have fun.”

Popyrin has clearly put some thought into the Soderling blueprint. He says he see some similarities between himself and the strapping Swede, a former World No.4 and owner of ten titles that pulled one of the biggest upsets of this tennis century against Nadal in 2009.

"I think I see similarities," he said. "I think I see big serve, big forehand. You know, I'm not gonna watch how [Dominic] Thiem beats him or how anybody else, like anybody who is not big, maybe [Juan Martin] Del Potro, but I don't know if he beat him on clay. So that's a match I can think of from the top of my head that the games are pretty similar, and that's what I want to watch. You know, hopefully I can do what he did, but that's going to be tough. But we'll see."

"I'm Not Going to Lose 1 and 1"

Popyrin, who improved to 15-7 on the season with his third Top 20 win, has never defeated a Top 10 player. After going through a streak of eight straight losses against the Top 20, he has now won two of three, however. Popyrin says he is not going to be intimidated by Nadal and he believes he has a game that can trouble the Spaniard.

“I'm not going to go out there thinking I'm going to lose 1-1,” he said. “I'm going to give it my all, put in a fight. I'm going to go out there believing that I can actually play because I believe I do have the level to play with him, even if it is his favorite surface, if he is playing at home. All the cards are in his favor right now, but, you know, I don't mind being the underdog. I have been the underdog for most of my career, so I'm glad to be able to be one.”

 

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