AAP Tennis

Aussie Popyrin has Open win over Tsonga

By AAP Newswire

Alexei Popyrin admitted defeating childhood hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was a bittersweet moment after the the Frenchman pulled out injured during their Australian Open first round clash.

Tsonga, the 28th seed, withdrew from the match with an ongoing back problem on Tuesday night when he was trailing the 20-year-old Australian 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-1.

The Sydneysider was happy to take this win but felt uncomfortable about the circumstances and the fact he considered Tsonga a hero following his amazing run through to the 2008 Melbourne Park decider.

Popyrin, ranked 96th in the world, had a brief exchange with his opponent afterwards, telling him how much he loved Tsonga when he was a child.

"I've never felt this way after a match," Popyrin said.

"Seeing him make the final here, I remember him jumping around like a crazy kid.

"So seeing him hurt, seeing him in pain, having to retire for this match was just painful.

"He's amazing. Everything about his game, you know, big serve, big forehand and his attitude on court."

Despite only just sitting inside the top 100, Popyrin has been a consistent early performer in grand slams, last year winning at least one match in all four majors.

While many of his contemporaries choose to build up rankings points on the secondary tour, Popyrin has consistently battled away to get into the best tournaments, finishing 2019 with the most number of wins through qualifying (11) to get into the top tier events.

Former great John McEnroe was hugely impressed with Popyrin, saying he had "top ten talent" and "could be a great player".

Tsonga, 34, confirmed he had picked up an injury at the Qatar Open a fortnight ago.

"I have a back problem. It's annoying, annoying me when I play," he said.

"It's difficult for me to deal with it for the moment. It's new. I will go home and see with my doctors what I have to do exactly and think about it."

Popyrin will play the winner of the Hugo Gaston-Jaume Munar match in the second round.