Facing Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros usually marks your last match in Paris that year, with the Spaniard winning 100 of 102 encounters at his favorite Major. Nadal will kick off his 17th Roland Garros campaign against Alexei Popyrin, with the young Aussie trying to deliver Rafa's earliest exit in his kingdom.
While understanding how challenging the task is, Popyrin is confident about his abilities, saying that he can beat the 13-time Roland Garros winner if he brings his best tennis. Rafa and Alexei played in Madrid a couple of weeks ago, with the Spaniard scoring a 6-3, 6-3 triumph in the third round.
Playing brave and aggressive tennis, Popyrin made a perfect start before Nadal established himself as the leader on the court, fending off five out of six break chances and producing four breaks to move over the top in 79 minutes.
The young Aussie hit 20 winners and 20 unforced errors, beating Rafa in that segment but losing ground in the shortest and mid-range exchanges to propel the more experienced player through. Their next duel comes in a couple of days, and it should be interesting to see the outcome and Popyrin's performance against the greatest clay-courter of all time.
Rafael Nadal will face Alexei Popyrin in his first match in Paris next week.
"There's nothing to lose for me against Rafa in Paris. I think he's got all the pressure on him and, basically, probably a 99.9% chance to win that match considering his record here - but I'll take that 0.1%!
It was a little bit of a shock when I heard I'd drawn him. But I'm really looking forward to it. It's the hardest draw you could get, in the first round especially - but I'm up for the challenge. I definitely do.
I don't go into any match thinking that I couldn't win. I definitely do think I have the game to beat him. I think my game's very dangerous for any player - I just need to find the consistency. If I bring my A-game, who knows what can happen this time.
Winning the juniors there has given me confidence here ever since. It was only the juniors, though. Doesn't really stand up against Rafa and 13 titles! Tell Rafa that I've won the French juniors, and he'd be, like, 'oh, yeah?' He'd swat that like a fly!" Alexei Popyrin said.