Australian Open wildcard Alexei Popyrin fell short against Lucas Pouille in a five-set thriller



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Updated

January 20, 2019 01:29:48

It took 12:34 Melbourne time for Lucas Pouille to finally extinguish Alexei Popyrin's spirit challenge in five tight sets, when the 19-year-old player again underlined his great potential in an exciting contest at the Australian Open.

Key points:

  • Alexei Popyrin fought back from two sets against France's Lucas Pouille
  • Popyrin and Alex Bolt are the last remaining Australians in the men's main draw
  • World number one Simona Halep will play seven-time champion Serena Williams in the women's fourth round

There is no doubt that Popyrin, who was born in Sydney, is a rising star, after pushing the 29th-seeded Frenchman 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-7 (10-12), 4- 6, 6-3 wins in three hours and 43 minutes in the last match which ended at Melbourne Park.

And just 24 hours after Rafael Nadal predicted "an extraordinary future" for another 19-year-old Australian player, Alex de Minaur, the same praise will be given to Popyrin.

Wildcard, ranked 149 in the world, returned from two sets to force the fifth and he struggled to the end, having had a break point when the Frenchman served for the match at 5-3.

He also saved one match point in the third set when Pouille took power.

Popyrin's exit meant there were no Australians left in the men's draw, with Alex Bolt leaving the tournament just hours before.

Pouille, who reached the top 10 in March last year, deserved his victory, mainly because he put pressure on Popyrin's service, which is a weapon being developed for the young Australian.

But there were so many bad sides to Popyrin's performance, which was witnessed by Serena Williams coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who sat with his camp at Margaret Court Arena, and Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt.

While Popyrin was able to determine points from the baseline, his mobility allowed him to play an all-court game, as he approached the goal easily and at the start of the meeting with Pouille he was effective with a backhand volley.

Standing at 196 centimeters, he can generate strength on his forehand and the fact that he is proficient on clay – illustrated by winning the 2017 French Open junior title – shows he can break into the top 100 this year if he stays fit.

The choice of Popyrin's shot against Pouille was lost, reflected in 56 of his own mistakes, but the increase in discipline would come with greater maturity.

He already gave an indication of his potential in previous victories at Melbourne Park, a match where he did not lose a set, or did not serve.

Bolt, meanwhile, showed courage in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of fourth seed and one of the pre-tournament favorites, Alexander Zverev.

It was only three years ago Bolt worked on the construction site after being disappointed with tennis, but he had reason to be proud of his efforts, because his playing style sometimes annoyed Zverev on the Rod Laver Arena.

The scouting report among the men's games shows Zverev not ready to win the major, given the fact that he only advanced beyond the fourth round once before.

But he did everything he had to do with opponents who were always expected to be beaten, claimed six services and only dropped once, and then played 16th seed Milos Raonic in the fourth round.

Halep defeats Venus to arrange a meeting with Serena

This will be a match that matches the Australian Open final, but world number one Simona Halep will face seven-time champion Serena Williams on an earlier date in the fourth round.

Halep booked a meeting with the main single champion 23 times by beating Williams' brothers Venus, 6-2, 6-3 at Margaret Court Arena.

The Romanian was unimpressive in his first two matches at the Open, both of them three setterers, after arriving in Melbourne rather poorly after his 2018 season was shot due to a back injury.

But two hard shots against Kaia Kanepi and Sofia Kenin provided the much needed fitness for the French Open champion and he showed more than a glimpse of his best performance against Venus Williams.

Halep only won one of nine head-to-head meetings in his career at the WTA Tour with Serena Williams.

"It's always fun playing against Serena because every time I have to learn something from the match," said Halep, who lost last year's final to Caroline Wozniacki.

Venus Williams, who described Halep's performance as "very perfect", said she would be ready if her sister wanted a tip.

"I don't know whether Serena needs my help or not," he said.

"If he does, I'll go there."

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Posted first

January 20, 2019 01:11:00

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