Popyrin claims ‘Aussie-off’ to set up Djokovic AO blockbuster as doubles queen Storms to second-round debut
Alexei Popyrin has dispelled lingering fitness concerns to book a second-round Australian Open showdown with Novak Djokovic.
Popyrin outclassed wildcard and great mate Marc Polmans 6-3 7-6 (7-3) 6-2 in the first of two-all Australian match-ups on Monday to earn a centre court shot at the 10-time Open champion.
A late scratching from last week’s Adelaide International after being troubled by a back complaint in Brisbane, Popyrin moved freely in living up to his Australian No.2 status with an impressive straight-sets win.
The world No.43 crunched 20 aces, won all 14 of his service games and broke Polmans four times in progressing in two hours and 28 minutes on John Cain Arena.
With two forays to the last 32 and wins over former US Open champion Dominic Thiem, 2008 AO finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and fellow top-10 stars Taylor Fritz and David Goffin, Melbourne Park has been the happiest of grand slam hunting grounds for Popyrin.
Now the 24-year-is relishing a crack at Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena, most likely on Wednesday night.
“I’ve known him since I was a kid and watched him play since I was a kid,” Popyrin said in his on-court interview.
“I last played him when I was 19. I’ve improved since then. Looking forward to going out there and we’ll see what I can bring.
“I’ll need the crowd on my side for the whole match up. Hopefully you guys can come out and support me like you did today though.”
Popyrin was the second Australian to advance on day two of the Open, with doubles queen Storm Hunter continuing her stunning rise to prominence with a long-awaited maiden Australian Open main-draw win.
Australia’s world No.1 doubles star built on her momentum from qualifying with a 6-4 6-3 first-round victory over former French Open finalist Sara Errani on Monday.
Incredibly, the watershed win comes in her 10th Open campaign since debuting in 2012 as a teenager.
The 29-year-old has been handed wildcards for every one of her previous nine tilts, including main-draw first-round defeats in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2022 and 2023.
Hunter’s only other Open win was in qualifying four years ago.
“It means everything,” she said after finally breaking through.
“I grew up watching the Australian Open and then dreaming of playing here and then I’ve had a lot of opportunities.
“I’m a little bit older, so I’ve played a few main draws and never got the win.
“So to come through qualifying and to win my first round and kind of waiting … it’s insane.”
Growing in belief and stature, the 2024 version of Hunter is a different beast to past years.
She is flying after becoming Australia’s first top-ranked women’s doubles ace since Samantha Stosur in 2006 and emerging as a linchpin for the nation’s Billie Jean King Cup and United Cup teams over the past two years.
Now the crafty left-hander is intent on forging a successful singles career.
“I’ve got a big schedule now,” Hunter said.
“Singles, doubles and mixed, so bring it on.”
Without the leg-up of a wildcard for the first time at her home grand slam, Hunter is the first Australian to progress to the women’s second round.
She will play either Russian 17th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova or German Laura Siegemund next for a place in the third round of a singles major for the first time.
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While Hunter marched on, Australian wildcard Taylah Preston crashed out with a 6-2 6-2 loss to Ukraine’s 19th seed Elina Svitolina.
Another seven more locals were scheduled for Monday action, including 10th seed Alex de Minaur in the feature men’s night match against one-time world No.3 Milos Raonic.