'Facing Rafael Nadal is always a privilege,' young Aussie recalls

Tennis - Alexei Popyrin got a chance to challenge a great rival in Madrid last year

by Jovica Ilic
'Facing Rafael Nadal is always a privilege,' young Aussie recalls

Alexei Popyrin raised his game to a higher level in the first part of the 2021 season. The promising Aussie fulfilled his potential and gained 50 places on the ATP ranking list by May. Popyrin scored two victories at the Madrid Masters and set the third-round clash with Rafael Nadal.

The Spaniard beat the Aussie 6-3, 6-3 in 70 minutes for his 11th Caja Magica quarter-final in the past 12 years! The youngster threw everything he had at the legend, firing 20 winners and unforced errors to keep the rallies on his racquet.

Despite a great start, the Aussie could not keep the same pace throughout the encounter, getting broken four times and seizing only one out of six break opportunities. Nadal praised the opponent and his striking abilities, needing time to figure out how to impose his strokes and gain the advantage.

Popyrin enjoyed the duel as well, describing it as a privilege to face such a grand champion and hoping to challenge Rafa even more in their upcoming encounters. Pumped to show his best tennis, Alexei claimed the opening seven points for a 1-0, 40-0 lead.

Rafa saved those three break chances in game two and avoided an early setback. The Spaniard grabbed a break in game three and held at 30 to forge a 3-1 advantage and settle into a nice rhythm. Nadal secured another break in game five to extend the lead before playing a loose service game to get broken for the first and only time.

Alexei Popyrin claimed six games against Rafael Nadal in Madrid last year.

Alexei reduced the deficit to 4-3, and Rafa clinched another break in game nine to wrap up the opener. Early in the second set, the Spaniard dictated the pace with his forehand, earned a break, and moved 4-1 ahead.

Popyrin served great in the rest of the clash and produced comfortable holds in games four, six and eight to remain within one break deficit. Rafa stayed focused behind the initial shot and closed the seventh game with a powerful forehand.

The Spaniard sealed the deal with a hold at 15 in game nine to move into the last eight. "Oh, that's great. It's put a smile on my face right now, hearing such great words from Nadal. It's a privilege to compete against a player like him, and getting complimented by him is an even bigger one.

I'm grateful, and hopefully, I can test him a bit more the next time we play. I'm playing well, and I'm sure there will be the next time," Alexei Popyrin said.

Rafael Nadal Alexei Popyrin