Alexei Popyrin's Perspective: Facing Novak Djokovic Then and Now

Novak Djokovic and Alexei Popyrin will play their first match since Tokyo 2019

by Jovica Ilic
Alexei Popyrin's Perspective: Facing Novak Djokovic Then and Now
© Morgan Hancock / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

On Wednesday, Novak Djokovic and Alexei Popyrin will battle at Rod Laver Arena in the second round of the Australian Open. It will be their first duel since Tokyo 2019, and Alexei is ready to take charge and challenge world no.

1 in front of the home fans. Popyrin recalled their first encounter, qualifying for the main draw at the ATP 500 event and losing to Djokovic 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 29 minutes. The Aussie admitted he could not challenge the Serb physically.

However, things are much different four years later, with the Sydney native hoping to impose his A-game and make the defending champion run for his money. Before their anticipated duel, let's dive into the 2019 Tokyo clash.

World no. 1 Djokovic debuted in Tokyo against Popyrin, playing his first match since the US Open and a shoulder injury that forced him to retire. A teenager stayed in touch with the world's best player in the opener, leading 4-3 before Novak rattled off nine of the final 11 games, sailing over the finish line.

Novak Djokovic defeated Alexei Popyrin in their first duel in Tokyo 2019.

Djokovic overpowered the young gun in the more extended exchanges. The Serb turned 44% of the return points into three breaks from 12 opportunities.

It was enough to propel Djokovic through after dropping 12 points in his games, keeping Popyrin away from break chances. Novak fired 30 winners and 12 unforced errors, taming his strokes nicely and leaving the young gun behind.

Alexei embraced an aggressive approach early on, avoiding extended rallies and going for risky shots. However, he could not keep that pace in the second part of the duel, spraying too many errors and finishing his campaign in the first round.

Novak Djokovic, Tokyo 2019© Koji Watanabe / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

The Aussie saved a break point at 3-3 after a fine attack, holding and moving 4-3 in front. The Serb followed the rival's pace in his games and pushed strong on the return again at 4-4.

Djokovic seized the fifth break chance after Popyrin's forehand mistake, moving in front and serving for the opener. Novak fired four winners while serving for the set at 5-4, gathering a boost ahead of set number two. Alexei saved a break point in the first game, avoiding falling a set and a break down.

However, Novak grabbed a break at 2-2, held in the next one and secured another return game on his fourth opportunity at 4-2 after Alexei's backhand error. Djokovic served for the victory in game eight and fired a forehand winner to seal the deal and book a place in the second round.

"I faced Novak as a qualifier in Tokyo 2019, still at 19, after just breaking into the top-100. I could not match Novak physically. Four years later, I'm more mature and physically stronger. I will stay focused on my game, not thinking about world no. 1 on the other side of the net," Alexei Popyrin said.

Alexei Popyrin Novak Djokovic