The Roar
The Roar


Aus Open Daily: Popyrin's dream draw, Thanasi's cruel postscript, Demon plays like a man possessed, Pegula fires

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20th January, 2023

Not done yet, giant-killing Alexei Popyrin knows opportunity knocks as the new big home hope confronts a dream seed-free path to the Australian Open quarter-finals – and possibly beyond.

Popyrin can enter uncharted waters with a third-round victory over American world No.89 Ben Shelton on Saturday after opening up the draw for himself with a rollicking five-set win over eighth seed Taylor Fritz.

A fit and focused Popyrin insists he has eyes only for Shelton as he chases a spot in the second week of a grand slam for the first time.

But it’s impossible not to dream knowing that world No.25 Roberto Bautista Agut is the highest-ranked player left in Popyrin’s blown-open quarter of the draw, presenting the 23-year-old with a rare opportunity to make the final four of his home slam.

“I’m going to take it one match at a time but, yeah, going into every tournament, you want to go all the way,” Popyrin said.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 17: Alexei Popyrin of Australia plays a backhand in their round one singles match against Chun-Hsin Tseng of Taiwan during day two of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 17, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mackenzie Sweetnam/Getty Images)

Alexei Popyrin. (Photo by Mackenzie Sweetnam/Getty Images)

“For me, with the way I’m playing now, I think I have a good chance to win the next round.

“That’s all that I’m looking towards. I don’t know who I (would) play in the fourth round, quarter-finals, semi-finals. For me, the third round is the key.”


For the record, Australia’s only French Open junior winner in the past half a century would face either JJ Wolf or qualifying lucky loser Michael Mmoh in the last 16 should he see off 20-year-old Shelton.

“I know that he’s a big lefty, big serve, big from the back, likes to come forward, has a huge game,” Popyrin said of the emerging Shelton.

“He is really up-and-coming with so much confidence. Those are tough players to play: youngsters with so much confidence who have not been on the tour much, who came out honestly at the back end of last year going from, I don’t know, I think unranked to top hundred.

“He’s a really good player and he’s in the third round already this year in his probably first AO. It’s going to be really tough. I’m not going into it lighthearted or cocky or anything like that. I’m going into it ready to battle.”

In supreme physical condition after a gruelling pre-season under new coach Xavier Malisse, Popyrin turned the corner after a lean 2022 campaign with a morale-boosting win over world No.7 Felix Auger-Aliassime en route to this month’s Adelaide International quarter-finals.

“Huge,” he said of the breakthrough.


“I knew that I have the game to beat them but it’s huge to back up talk, important to back up talk.

“I wouldn’t have been saying it last year, for example. I wouldn’t have been claiming that I can beat these top-10 guys.

“Yeah, for me it’s simple, not just to put stuff out there and not back it up. It’s really important for me to back up my word. That’s what I did.

“Hopefully I’ll continue doing it. Don’t want to jinx it, though, so touch wood.”

(Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)

Cruel postscript to Thanasi loss

Adding salt to the raw wound, Thanasi Kokkinakis’ gut-wrenching second-round Australian Open loss will leave the in-form star scrambling to make the main draw of the season’s remaining three grand slam events.


As if he was not already crushed enough after letting a two-sets-to-love and 5-2 lead slip against Andy Murray, Kokkinakis is now in a desperate race against the clock to lift his flagging ranking before the French Open in May.

Despite finally being free of injury and playing the best tennis of his career, Kokkinakis is projected to be languishing at No.135 in the world after the Open.

The 26-year-old needs to climb back into the top 100 to be guaranteed direct entry to Roland Garros, where he once reached the third round as an exciting teenage talent and shared centre court with Novak Djokovic.

If he cannot, the South Australian will need to try his luck in qualifying, or rely on Tennis Australia awarding him the only wildcard they are issued under a reciprocal arrangement with the French Tennis Federation.

The rough predicament is a cruel postscript to the most dispiriting defeat of Kokkinakis luckless, injury-plagued career.

The one-time Roger Federer slayer was already reeling physically and mentally from the five-hour, 45-minute heartbreaker that finished at 4.05 on Friday morning.


“Don’t really know what to say …. Wow, this f***ing sport man,” Kokkinakis posted on Instagram while trying to digest the 4-6 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 7-5 defeat.

“Gave it everything I had last night and fell short. You’re a warrior @andymurray and a honour to share that court with you.

“To everyone that supports me, THANKYOU.”

Kokkinakis’ bitter pill ends his 2023 Open campaign after he was forced to withdraw from his doubles title defence when playing partner Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the singles on Monday with a knee injury. 

His departure leaves 22nd seed Alex de Minaur and fellow Sydneysider Alexei Popyrin to fly the Australian flag in the singles.

De Minaur plays Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi on Saturday for a place in the last 16, with Popyrin up against American Ben Shelton as the wildcard chases a spot in the second week of a grand slam for the first time.

Demon playing like a man possessed


Tennis workaholic Alex de Minaur is reaping the rewards of skipping holidays in favour of a gruelling early pre-season as he eyes a deep Australian Open run.

The 23-year-old booked a third-round berth in his home slam for the third time with a four-set win over Adrian Mannarino.

He was already high on confidence after beating Rafael Nadal in the United Cup and has attributed his impressive January to an early start to pre-season.

After Australia lost the Davis Cup final to Canada in Malaga on November 27, de Minaur had a single day off before starting his preparation.

“It was a travel day,” he told reporters. “Literally, I finished in Malaga, and my day off was travelling. I finished on the Sunday. I travelled on the Monday. I got to Monte Carlo. I started my pre-season on the Tuesday.

“It wasn’t my ideal day off, let’s just say that. I was hoping for a little bit more relaxing. But, hey, it is what it is. No rest for the wicked.”

Australia’s No.22 seed is attempting to reach the second week in Melbourne for the second consecutive year. His determination to mix it with tennis’ upper echelon prompted his decision to prioritise training over taking a break after a long season.


“After last year, there’s nothing I would have loved more than to spend one or two weeks just in some lost island somewhere, right, and just not think about tennis, not worry about my phone, and not do anything of the sort,” he said. “But it was a very long year, and we started very, very soon. That’s when the sacrifices kick in, right?

“You can either decide to want the extras, the one-percenters, be professional and tell yourself that you’ll get some time off sometime in the year to really get these types of results. I could have easily taken a couple of weeks off and probably come here a little bit under-done. That’s not the person that I am. 

“I always want to get the absolute most out of this wonderful body I’ve got.”

De Minaur will take on Benjamin Bonzi in the third round on Saturday, renewing hostilities after two victories over the Frenchman last year.

Tsitsipas locks in Sinner Open blockbuster

Jannik Sinner has hauled himself back from the brink of elimination to reach the Australian Open second week and lock in a heavyweight clash with No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.


The Italian was the first man through to the fourth round after pulling off a stunning five-set comeback against Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, prevailing 4-6 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-0.

In the process, he teed up a blockbuster final-16 clash with Greek star Tsitsipas who eased past Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in straight sets shortly after, winning 6-2 7-6 (7-5) 6-3.

Both players are eyeing their maiden grand slam.

Tsitsipas, 24, was the 2021 runner-up at Roland Garros and is a three-time Melbourne Park semi-finalist while 21-year-old Sinner has made it to the quarter-finals of every slam.

Sinner, who has Australian super coach Darren Cahill in his team, was in dire straights after dropping the opening two sets against Fucsovics before turning things around dramatically.

He reeled off the first five games of the third set and dropped just three games in total across the final three sets.


“Obviously, I had to change something in my game after the two sets,” Sinner said. “I was feeling the ball quite well also in the beginning but the final shots I was missing a little bit, also tactically I was not so good.”

He relished having Cahill among his coaching staff as he eyed a deep run at Melbourne Park.

“It’s very nice to have him here,” Sinner said. “Obviously, he’s a very important part of my team but the most important thing is he fits together with the rest of the team and I’m very happy to have them.

“Without them, it’s impossible to play at such a high level. We work every day harder – so let’s go.”

Rampant Pegula locks in Krejcikova clash

World No.3 Jessica Pegula has raced through to the Australian Open second week, landing her seventh consecutive straight-sets win to earn a tantalising clash with Barbora Krejcikova.

Pegula barely raised a sweat in her 6-0 6-2 thrashing of Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, needing just an hour and five minutes to seal a fourth-round berth.


The in-form American will next face the resurgent Krejcikova, who has flown under the radar in her bid to complete a rare Australian Open title double and also easily beat a Ukrainian in Anhelina Kalinina 6-2 6-3 on Friday.

But last year’s runner-up and 13th seed Danielle Collins won’t be able to go one better than her 2022 finals loss to Ash Barty after being knocked out by Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-2 5-7 6-2.

Krejcikova is the 20th seed at Melbourne Park this year after an elbow injury and dipping form in majors hurt her ranking but regained form late last year and shapes as a dangerous prospect.

Pegula is suitably wary of Krejcikova, who has won all four doubles slams, been ranked as high as No.2 in the world in singles and reached the quarter-finals at the Open last year.

“Obviously I’ve watched her quite a bit,” Pegula said.

“She’s had a great couple of years, obviously last year she was a little bit hurt. It seems like she’s finding her confidence again


“I actually don’t think I’ve ever played her in singles, just in doubles

“So I have a little bit of an idea but but I’ll definitely have to watch some more of her matches.”

Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open singles champion who won the 2022 Melbourne Park doubles title with compatriot Katerina Siniakova, is yet to drop a set and has only lost 14 games across her first three matches.

“Everything is improving. I think with every single match I’m getting better and better,” she said. “I’m really happy with the way I’m winning so far. It’s always nice to play on Rod Laver Arena, I feel like it’s just I can get a little bit more out of the situation. I love to play on these big courts.”