Australian Open: Novak Djokovic struggles but beats Alexei Popyrin

Novak Djokovic will play in the Australian Open third round for the 16th time

by Jovica Ilic
Australian Open: Novak Djokovic struggles but beats Alexei Popyrin
© Daniel Pockett / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

The defending Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will compete in the third round at Melbourne Park for the 16th time. Novak faced Alexei Popyrin in the second round and scored a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory. Thus, the Serb grabbed his 91st Australian Open triumph and 363rd at Majors, staying on the title course.

Djokovic struggled but did enough to seal the deal in four sets, fending off four set points in the third set and ousting Popyrin with a fine display in the fourth. Novak struggled with a minor cold and had his moments with the crowd at Rod Laver Arena.

However, he stayed focused and brought the victory home, advancing into the last 32. Novak made an impressive start, dropping three points behind the initial shot in the opener and keeping the pressure on the other side. He pushed Alexei to the limits in three consecutive return games, securing one break of serve and wrapping up the set in style.

The Aussie sprayed 17 unforced errors and lost the ground in the shortest and mid-range rallies, needing to raise his level in the second set to challenge the most formidable rival. They served well in the opening three service games, and Alexei faced the first test at 1-2.

He denied two break points and avoided an early setback.

Novak Djokovic defeated Alexei Popyrin in Melbourne.

Novak held at love for 3-2 and made another charge in the next one. Djokovic wasted a break point, allowing Popyrin to bring the game home and stay in touch.

The Serb shifted into a higher gear from the seventh game, taking 12 of the final 14 points and securing a crucial break at 4-3 with a forehand crosscourt winner. Novak held at 15 in game nine, securing the opener with a backhand down the line attack after 39 minutes.

Alexei raised his level behind the initial shot in the second set, charging through the opening four service games and moving in front with a break.

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open 2024© Daniel Pockett / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

The Aussie broke the Serb at 15 in the fourth game after a volley winner and produced two holds at love for 5-2.

Alexei served for the set at 5-3 and cracked under pressure, spraying a forehand error and keeping Novak in contention. However, Popyrin delivered another break at 5-4, landing a perfect lob winner to level the overall score after an hour and 19 minutes.

The servers dominated in the opening nine games of the third set, with Novak serving at 4-5. Djokovic faced the ultimate challenge, denying four set points and producing a vital hold for 5-5. The set went into a tie break, and the more experienced player clinched it 7-4 after forcing the rival's mistake, moving two sets to one in front after two hours and 33 minutes.

The fourth set offered five comfortable holds, with the Serb leading 3-2. Novak grabbed a decisive break in the sixth game, moving in front and holding at 15 for a 5-2 advantage. Popyrin faced three match points on serve in the eighth game.

He denied them and held after taking five straight points, reducing the gap to 5-3. The defending champion served for the victory in game nine and sealed the deal with a hold at 15, beating Alexei for the second time from as many encounters.

Australian Open Novak Djokovic Alexei Popyrin