Alexei Popyrin knows everyone’s saying he has no chance of causing one of sport’s greatest upsets by toppling king of clay Rafael Nadal at the French Open.
But the soaring young Aussie, who’s tasted his own glory at Roland Garros as the 2017 boys’ champion, swears he has the power game to confound the sports world at the Paris venue that’s as “special” to him as it is to Nadal.
“There’s nothing to lose for me,” the confident 21-year-old Sydneysider told AAP on Friday.
“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%!” he added with a laugh.
When he was 17, Popyrin lifted the junior title the day before Nadal -who first won the senior title two days after his 19th birthday – annexed a 10th crown at Roland Garros.
Rafa’s added three more since then, leaving the Australian to admit: “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.”
Did he really think he could create a sensation by becoming only the third man ever to beat Nadal in his Paris kingdom in 103 matches?
“I definitely do. I don’t go into any match thinking that I couldn’t win,” said Popyrin.
“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.”
The tracer-firing Popyrin, third on the ATP Tour’s aces count this year, reckoned his 6-3 6-3 defeat by Nadal in Madrid earlier this month had actually encouraged him because, while the Aussie felt he was far from his best, he was still able to give the Mallorcan a test.
Before that match, Popyrin had prepped himself by watching a video of Swede Robin Soderling’s famous win over Nadal in Paris in 2009.
This time, though, he says he’ll review his own match in Madrid to remind himself where he can improve. “If I bring my A game, who knows what can happen this time?”
Nadal was still enthusing about Popyrin at his pre-tournament press conference on Friday.
“He’s young, he has the power. He has big shots. As always, I need to be ready for it. I know every round is tough, I respect every opponent always,” reckoned the 34-year-old.
“And Popyrin is a dangerous one, no?”
Nadal’s record in first round matches at Roland Garros is, naturally, amazing, having lost only three sets in 16 matches, but he did have to come from two sets to one down to beat John Isner in 2011.
Popyrin’s mum and dad will travel up from the family base in Nice to watch the match in what the Australian still calls a “special” place for him.
“I think it always will be. Winning the juniors there has given me confidence here ever since.” he said, adding with a laugh: “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!”