Alexei Popyrin has opened up a showdown second round clash with Novak Djokovic, after a 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-2 victory over Marc Polmans on John Cain Arena.
The Australian world number 43 was too clinical for the wildcard Polmans, reaching the Australian Open last 64 for the fifth time in six years.
“It's never easy playing a fellow Aussie, a friend. I was happy I managed to get through in straight sets,” Popyrin told the media.
The 24-year-old took control from the outset, breaking Polmans in the opening game and holding his serve throughout to take the opener 6-3.
A more even second set led to a tiebreak where Popyrin’s quality shone through, reeling off four consecutive points to claim it 7-3.
Ultimately, Popyrin’s game proved too big for Polmans, firing fifty-six winners to twenty-two as he eased through the third set.
“I just focused on my serve and focused on the way I had to play, the tactics that we implemented and got through.”
For Polmans, the loss marks his first Grand Slam main draw match since Wimbledon 2021 as the 26-year-old continues to re-build his ATP ranking.
Popyrin, the Aussie male number two, will now face Djokovic on Wednesday in what will very likely headline the Rod Laver Arena night session.
“Going to play against Novak is nothing different than going to play against anybody else on tour. For me it's the same preparation and the same mentality,” Popyrin said post-match.
“It's just me playing the World No. 1. It's just another match for me,” he added.
The pair have previously met once – a 2019 contest in Tokyo where the Serbian prevailed 6-4, 6-2 – with the Aussie believing his game has evolved significantly since that encounter.
“I played him when I was 19 years old. I just broke into the top 100 when I played him and qualified for that tournament. I remember that I was not physically up to par to him,” Popyrin said.
“Now I'm 24 years old, five years later, a bit more experienced, bit more mature and much stronger physically.”
Speaking specifically on the Djokovic challenge, the Aussie believes the 24-time major champion is extremely well-rounded, making him difficult to expose.
“He's physically strong, got a really good forehand, really good backhand, solid from the back, amazing serve. He is the greatest of all time in our sport.”
While Popyrin is yet to beat a player ranked world number one, the 24-year-old believes he can create a career-defining moment on Wednesday night.
“There is no point going into the court if I don't believe that I can.”
Elsewhere, James Duckworth couldn’t bring home the gold from two sets to one up against France’s Luca Van Assche.
Court 6, also known as the courtside bar, witnessed a rambunctious Aussie and French crowd who were in full voice to support their respective hopes.
What should have been a more comfortable first set with Duckworth serving for the opener at 5-3, a tiebreak was required which fell the way of the Australian world number 95.
Van Assche, 19, impressed with his versatile flexibility to grab the second set, only for Duckworth to respond and take advantage of one of two break point opportunities he had all match to edge his nose in front at the end of the third. From there it was all one-way traffic despite a nervy service game from Van Assche to almost squander a 40-0 cushion at 4-3 up in the deciding set, but held his nerve to claim a valuable 6-7(2) 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-3 victory.