Alexei Popyrin unfazed by potential Novak Djokovic clash

Australia’s world No. 43 Alexei Popyrin says he will not allow himself to think about a potential second round clash with Novak Djokovic until he has a win under his belt at the Australian Open.

Popyrin has been dealt one of the most difficult runs of the 13 Australian men already in the main draw, but his close friend Marc Polmans – his first round opponent – has an equal claim.

The duo played doubles together at Melbourne Park in 2023 and will play off for the right to face the world No. 1 in the following game, provided he gets through his qualifying opponent.

The 24-year-old Popyrin cheekily pointed out a first round Djokovic victory was not a given.

“I’m just taking it one match at a time now, but if you want me to think ahead, it’s going to be great,” he said when asked about the likely showdown.

“You just focus on your first round … (Djokovic) has got to win his first round too!

“Once you get past that first match, then you can start thinking about it.”

Popyrin was confident he had overcome the left glute issue which plagued him as he gave up a big third-set lead and five match points to Roman Safiullin in the Brisbane International last week.

The injury forced him to withdraw from the Adelaide International on Monday, but he said his glute now felt “as good as normal” after a workout at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

“We’re going to up the intensity in the next couple days and then we’ll be ready for the start of the tournament for sure,” he said.

Popyrin was the chief entertainer for the local crowd on John Cain Arena at last year’s Open, winning consecutive five-set marathons including a stunning victory over eighth seed Taylor Fritz.

He said he was ready to embrace the fans again and did not feel overwhelmed by pressure to live up to his giant-killing performance.

“No, (the crowd) lifts me, for sure. The Aussie crowd is something special, last year showed it against Fritz, it was unbelievable,” he said.

“Also in the first round, half the stadium was gone, but half was packed and they were there until 3am supporting me, and that’s something you don’t get anywhere else.

“I don’t feel the extra pressure to come out here and perform in front of them. It’s going to be great fun, it’s the time of the year I look forward to the most.”

Popyrin said he “knew what to expect” from Djokovic after hitting with him several times during the 2019 Australian Open and then occasionally since.

The pair’s last meeting only meeting was on a hard court at the 2019 Japan Open where Djokovic claimed a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

“I’ve always had that kind of confidence that I’ve got a level to cause trouble to a lot of the top guys,” Popyrin said.

“It’s going to be an interesting match if I can get there.”

He said Polmans would be in for some ribbing before their first round match, after the 26-year-old reached the main draw via a wildcard.

“Marcy is a really tough player … last time I played him was at a Challenger in California, and we had a battle there, I think I came out on top of that one,” he said.

“We came up the junior ranks (together) … he’s a good friend, it’s always tough to play a friend and a fellow Aussie.

“I’ll crack a few jokes when we see each other. It’s not radio silence, we’re used to playing each other us Aussies. When matchday comes we’re enemies, but after that we’re friends again.”

AUSSIE MEN FIRST ROUND AUSTRALIAN OPEN CLASHES

(Aussies in bold)

Alexei Popyrin vs Marc Polmans

Chris O’Connell vs Cristian Garin

James Duckworth vs Luca Van Assche

Jordan Thompson vs Aleksandar Vukic

Jason Kubler vs Daniel Elahi Galan

No.10 Alex de Minaur vs Milos Raonic

Adam Walton vs Matteo Arnaldi

Thanasi Kokkinakis vs Sebastian Ofner

James McCabe vs Alex Michelsen

Max Purcell vs Qualifier/Lucky Loser

Rinky Hijikata vs No.24 Jan-Lennard Struff

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