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Alexei Popyrin’s earliest Australian Open memory is watching in awe from the stands as Lleyton Hewitt played Marcos Baghdatis in a late-night battle.

The then seven-year-old dreamed of one day emulating his heroes.

Now, 15 years later, Popyrin did exactly that.

Popyrin recorded a 4-6 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 7-6(4) 6-1 victory against former world No.1-ranked junior Tseng Chun-Hsin in a late-night battle of his own at John Cain Arena.

Their gruelling four-hour and 26-minute encounter, the longest of Popyrin’s career, finished at 2.02am local time.

“I’m exhausted. That was a physical battle and a mental battle too,” an emotional Popyrin said.

“I’ve never played a match this late. I’ve never played a match this long.”

Popyrin’s fighting spirit mirrored former world No.1 Hewitt throughout the intense battle.

The 23-year-old wildcard was staring down a two-set deficit, but bravely saved four set points in the 10th game of the second set and went on to level the match at one-set apiece.

There was only a single break of serve across the first four sets, secured by world No.115 Tseng in the opening set.

Popyrin kept persevering and finally, on his 13th opportunity, he earned his first break early in the deciding set and built a 3-0 lead.

With both players beginning to feel the physical affects of their gruelling encounter, the spirited Popyrin took control to serve out a memorable victory.

He finished the match with 31 aces and 89 winners in total.

Popyrin’s efforts set up a second-round showdown with eighth-seeded American Taylor Fritz.


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