The 13-time Roland Garros winner Rafael Nadal and a former junior champion Alexei Popyrin battled in the first round in Paris on Tuesday. The more experienced player earned a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 victory in two hours and 23 minutes, advancing into the second round and scoring his 101st victory at his beloved Major.
Nadal broke Popyrin four times and suffered one break that could have cost him the third set. The young Aussie forged a 5-2 advantage and earned two set points on his serve in game nine, squandering all that and losing the tie break to propel the Spaniard through.
Praising the opponent, Nadal said that Popyrin should reach the top if he uses his abilities and does hard work in the years to come. Honored, Alexei called Nadal the greatest player of all time and said that he knows how much he can achieve once he gathers more experience.
Alexei Popyrin called Rafael Nadal the greatest player of all time.
"I think the emotion right now is definitely a disappointment. I choked in that third set; I could have and should have taken to the fourth. We chalk this one down to experience, but I don't want to chalk many matches down to experience much longer.
I think I'm experienced enough not to waste a 5-3 40-30 advantage. You know, I'm disappointed with that, but overall, I think I played a good game. I think the moment got to my head a bit. You know, taking a set off Nadal, especially at Roland Garros, is not the easiest thing to do.
I won't let it happen again, and I think this is a one-off for me. If I have set points on my serve, I expect to take it and win the set. What can I say about Rafa's comments? I've got to agree with the greatest of all time.
You know, if he says it, then it must be true. It's obviously amazing to hear it from him. But I don't think it's something that my team and I didn't know already. I think we know that I have the game to make it to the top.
It's just a matter of consistency, of keeping up with the hard work and grinding away, step by step. I always have a belief that I'll be able to get to the top," Alexei Popyrin said.