Alexei Popyrin has kicked off his 2022 season with a 7-6(5), 6-3 win over Italian Stefano Travaglia to book his place in the second round of the Melbourne Summer Set ATP 250 tournament.
The 22-year-old Aussie belted down seven aces in the first set, and saved all three break points he faced, but wasn't able to earn a break point for himself on the Italian's serve. After a real arm wrestle, a tiebreaker was needed to decide the set, in which the Aussie went on to claim 7-5, despite winning one less point than Travaglia for the set.
The Italian came out firing in the second set, breaking Popyrin early and consolidating for a 3-0 lead, but a blister on the Aussie's right foot paused the match as he took a medical timeout to get his toe taped.
With a freshly taped toe and a spring in his step, Popyrin returned to the court in fine fashion, reeling off six games in a row to slam the door shut on Travaglia's comeback attempt, seeing himself through to the second round.
"The momentum changed after I took my medical timeout. I had a blister on my toe so I needed to get that taped and I could move again", Popyrin said in his post-match interview.
It certainly wasn't Popyrin's best performance at Melbourne Park, but a win's a win, and this will certainly satisfy as a season openening performance.
"I came out rusty. I think that's something that's bound to happen after not playing for a while," Popyrin said in his post-match interview.
"First match of the year is always going to be difficult but I think I kept my composure really really well and served out the tough moments."
The Australian has boasted some of his best career results at Melbourne Park, which includes an five-set epic win over David Goffin at last years Australian Open, and he is excited to be back playing at home - a place where he always plays with lots of confidence.
"It's great to be back home and playing in front of the Aussie crowd. My confidence is always high every time I come to Australia. Playing in front of the home fans, it's what you grow up dreaming of. Every time I step into Melbourne Park it feels like home to me. Just playing in front of the Aussie crowd always gets me pumped up. I really really enjoy playing at home," Popyrin exclaimed.
2021 was a career-best year for Popyrin, in which he won his maiden ATP Tour title and picked up three top 20 wins, but the youngster isn't satisfied and admits more consistency is needed this year if he is to take his game to the next level.
Speaking of his goals for the season; "I think it's just to keep the consistency. I started the year last year really really well and then kind of dropped off throughout the middle of the year, then picked it up the last few weeks of the year. For me, it's just to keep a high level of tennis week in week out. It's tough to do but that's what we work for. That's what I worked on pre-season for and that's what I'm going to try and do throughout the year."
Popyrin will now face Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in the second round of the tournament. A meeting with No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal looms if Popyrin can get past Griekspoor and Nadal can get past Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis.