Australian Open 2020: Alexei Popyrin faces childhood idol Jo Wilfried-Tsonga
Alexei Popyrin was bouncing around his lounge room as an eight year-old when he watched Jo Wilfried-Tsonga in the 2007 Australian Open final.
That year, Popyrin spent the whole first week soaking up the action in the stands at Melbourne Park, and he has long admired Wilfried-Tsonga’s power and agility.
More than a decade later, the Sydneysider will tomorrow do battle against the popular Frenchman for the first time, eager to continue his breakout 2019 form.
While the butterflies of taking on the game’s biggest stars have faded a little bit since turning pro in 2017, Popyrin, 20, knows tomorrow will be one of the highlights of his career so far.
And after making the third round of a slam twice last year, the world No.94 is eager to continue his rankings climb.
“It’s going to be special — so special — when I go out there just before the coin toss and to stand on the other side of the night to him, it’s going to be an unbelievable experience,” Popyrin said.
“He (Wilfried-Tsonga) has got experience on his side.
“He made the finals in 2007, and I watched that final against (Novak) Djokovic. He was one of my favourite players growing up.
“So it just gives the match a bit more excitement for me, you still want to go out there and beat him though, even though he was your idol growing up.
“I watched him play, and you try to play like him, so it’s going to be fun.”
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Popyrin won plenty of fans at the Australian Open last year, upsetting German veteran Mischa Zverev in the first round before pushing then 28th seed Lucas Pouille all the way in a gruelling five-setter in the third round.
The Australian young gun said he wants to continue to build on his momentum from last year despite a first-round exit to Serbian Laslo Djere at the Adelaide International a week ago.
“I think 2019 was a good year for me,” he said.
“It (the Pouille match) was one of my favourite matches I have ever played, even though I lost, it was an unbelievable match.
“I came back from two sets to love down, and I was the first time I ever did that, the first time I have played a five-setter.
“So it was a great experience for me and I’m excited to go out there and hopefully I can have a similar performance.”
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And Popyrin is clear on his battle plan for tomorrow’s clash against Wilfried-Tsonga.
At 196cm, the big-serving rising star wants to push the tempo from the start.
“I think come forward and push to the net more — that is a big part of my game,” he said.
“It’s not my game to run around behind the baseline, and try and grind down balls.
“I’m a big player, I move well for a big player, so I’m more confident and I’m playing better when I’m inside the court.”
Originally published as How Aussie young gun plans to topple childhood idol