Rafael Nadal and Alexei Popyrin will face each other for the first time in the Madrid Open third round on Thursday. The young Aussie has played the best tennis of his career at the beginning of the new season, scoring 15 victories on the Tour in just over four months and matching his entire pre-2021 tally.
Alexei beat Jan-Lennard Struff and Jannik Sinner in straight sets at Caja Magica to set the ultimate clash against Nadal, saying he wants to perform at his best against the mighty Spaniard and prove he can compete against the leading players.
Popyrin said that he would watch Nadal's match against Robin Soderling from Roland Garros 2009, hoping to implement some elements from the Swede's game and make Rafa run for his money. Nadal made a winning start in Madrid after beating the young compatriot Carlos Alcaraz 6-1, 6-2 on Wednesday, wishing for a similar outcome against Popyrin in his quest for the first Madrid Open crown in four years.
Alexei Popyrin knows where to find the key for beating Rafael Nadal.
"I'm just going to go out and have fun. I've got to play against Rafael Nadal on his favorite surface, and he's the greatest of all time on clay.
Maybe, I'll watch a bit of his 2009 loss against Soderling and get some tips from there, try and build some tactics on how to play against him. I'm not going to go out there thinking, 'I'm going to lose 6-1, 6-1.
I'm going to give it my all, put in a fight. I have to believe that I can actually play because I think I have the level to stay competitive against Rafa. All the cards are in his favor, but I don't mind being the underdog.
I have been the underdog for most of my career, so I'm glad to be able to be one. It's hard to rate this match against Jannik. He is a good player, but I don't think he's miles ahead of my level. I came into the match feeling confident.
I didn't step on the court thinking I would lose or that he would blow me off. His ranking might be higher, but I think my game is up there with the people who are ranked inside the top 20," Alexei Popyrin said.