AAP Tennis

Popyrin eyes pay-off for tennis strategy

By AAP Newswire

Described as a top-10 talent and potential great by John McEnroe, Alexei Popyrin knows if he gets there that the hard choices he's made will have played a major part.

The first Australian man to win the French Open junior title in 49 years when he claimed the trophy at Roland Garros back in 2017, Popyrin has largely eschewed pumping up his ranking by playing on the challenger circuit.

A failsafe method for getting well-performed players deeply ensconced into the top 100, Popyrin has instead largely opted to go through qualifying at top-tier tournaments - time and time again.

The 20-year-old, who looks to have a winnable match against Jaume Munar on Wednesday after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsgona in round one, finished 2019 with a tour-best 11 qualifying match wins to get into top-tier events.

"As a kid, I always wanted to play up. I wanted to always challenge myself in higher levels. I think ATP is the highest level you can challenge yourself," the world No.96 said.

"For me, it's always a learning curve, always a learning experience. When I lose in ATP tournaments, for example, main draws, or even in qualifying, it always gives me something to learn, something that I can take out of it."

As some of the young guns around him struggle to bring their best to slams, Popyrin believes it's a strategy that will pay off for him in the long term.

"I felt at home from the first grand slam last year, Aussie Open," he said of the tournament where he beat current world No.5 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

This year, that second round match-up lies with one of his countryman, Alex Bolt on Thursday.

Thiem retired in the third set of that clash with Popyrin, and fully fit will present a next-level task for world No.140 Bolt.

A fan favourite after his defeat of Gilles Simon and run through to the third round in 2019, Bolt enjoyed a quarter-final showing in Brisbane but will slip in the rankings if he can't cause a major upset at Melbourne Park on Thursday.