The young Aussie Alexei Popyrin has enjoyed a great season so far, scoring 15 victories raising his tennis to a higher level. Alexei scored two wins at the Madrid Open last week to set the third-round clash against the 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal. Facing the legend for the first time, the Aussie stormed over Rafa to grab the opening seven points before the Spaniard took charge and scored a 6-3, 6-3 victory in 79 minutes. Speaking about the match, Alexei said that Rafa changed his tactics after losing those opening seven points, targeting his backhand and taking advantage. Popyrin stayed aggressive from start to finish, landing 20 winners and the same number of unforced errors, while Rafa stayed on 11-15 ratio. The Spaniard did more damage with his initial shot and controlled the pace in the shortest and mid-range rallies, fending off five out of six break points in the opener and stealing Popyrin’s serve four times to move into the next round.
The Aussie held at love in the opening game and created three break chances in the next one before Nadal repelled them to close the game with a service winner. Wasting his chances, Alexei lost the ground a bit and hit a double fault in game three to fall behind, with Rafa holding at 30 with another powerful serve to open a 3-1 gap. The youngster sprayed a backhand mistake in the fifth game to experience another break before finding the rhythm on the return and reducing the deficit to 2-4. Popyrin brought the seventh game home to remain in touch before Nadal grabbed another break at 5-3 to wrap up the opener in 42 minutes.
Alexei Popyrin lost to Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Open third round.
The Spaniard fired a forehand down the line winner at the beginning of the second set for a hold at love and placed another in game two to break at love and make a perfect start. Nadal confirmed the lead with a service winner in game three and held at 15 with an ideal backhand crosscourt winner for 4-1. Alexei served great after that initial break, producing fine holds in games four, six and eight to remain within one break deficit and hoping for a chance on the return that would keep him alive. Instead of that, Rafa closed the seventh game with a powerful forehand that forced the rival’s error and moved over the top with a hold at 15 at 5-3, securing the quarter-final berth for the 11th time at Caja Magica.
“Oh, that’s really great. It’s put a smile on my face right now, hearing such great words from Nadal. It’s a privilege to compete against a player like him, and get complimented by him is an even bigger one. I’m grateful, and hopefully, I can test him a bit more the next time we play – because I’m sure there will be the next time. Rafa didn’t do anything special throughout the match, but in the middle of the first set, I thought I had to do more than I did, and that caused mistakes to come. I kind of gifted him the match – but I chalk this down to experience. I’ll learn from it; he’s one of the greatest of all time. You can see straight away after I won those first seven points, he completely changed his tactics straight away, hitting loopy balls to the backhand, trying to pressure me – and it worked for him. Next time we play, I won’t fall into that trap, and I’ll focus on what I have to do and try not to blast him off the court with every single shot. I learned I shouldn’t be scared to rally with him,” Alexei Popyrin said.