Given the attention and headlines Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios attract, you could forgive Australia’s next generation of tennis stars for being shy and reserved.
That’s not the case with 17-year-old Alexei Popyrin though, who is well and truly aware of the spotlight that comes with being a young tennis star.
The Sydneysider, already 195cm tall, is still basking in the glow of his recent win in the French Open boys’ singles.
Popyrin, who prefers to play on clay, became the first Aussie since Phil Dent in 1968 to win the Roland Garros title, and he did it superbly, impressing with his serving and skills from the baseline.
He joins Dent, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson and John Newcombe as Australian winners of the event, and knows public interest in him is set to surge – not that it bothers him.
“I’ve always been ready for that,” he told The New Daily.
“Ever since I laid hands on a racquet, that’s all that I’ve wanted [to be a success].
“When that time comes, which I hope it will come, I’ll be ready for it 100 per cent.”
Popyrin’s win at the French Open gave him the confidence to quit junior tournaments and take on the men, and the early signs are promising.
He won five matches at an ITF Futures event in Poland last week to claim his first senior title, a result that will see him surge up the world rankings.
Popyrin, who skipped the boys event at Wimbledon to play in the tournament, will go from 1035th in the world to 748th, and his plan is to keep on rising.
“I’m hoping I can reach at least the top 600 or 500 by the end of this year, if everything goes to plan,” said Popyrin, who beat world No.251 Laurynas Grigelis in the Poland final.
“… and maybe the top 100 by the end of next year.”
From there, he’s looking to be in the top 10 within four or five years.
It’s a lofty aim but Popyrin is a focused, resilient young man, who is backed by the unwavering support of his family, who have helped him move from Sydney to Dubai, and then Spain – all in the name of tennis.
“I played a tournament in Croatia on clay and I realised I had to move to clay, and we moved to Spain when I was 10 years old,” he said.
He was one of those kids – “I still am one of those kids,” he says – who just loves sport and always wants to play with whatever ball is around.
“Nobody in my family really knew what tennis was until my mum bought me a tennis racquet,” he added.
“I used to play soccer and tennis and at the age of eight or nine I had to decide between them and we all decided that tennis would be the best sport for me because we found out that I was going to be tall.
“Playing soccer being lanky isn’t as good a match.”
Popyrin admires the current greats of the game, including Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, as well as Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who some have compared him with.
But Popyrin said he hasn’t modelled his game on anyone else.
“I always wanted to have my own style of play. I want to be someone special that nobody’s ever seen before,” he said.
“My strengths are my serve and my forehand and when I come in I don’t miss many volleys.”
Don’t mistake Popyrin’s confidence for arrogance, though – he knows he has hard work ahead of him.
“The things I need to improve on are definitely my footwork, my backhand technique … serve technique also – there’s a couple of changes I have to make – but every groundstroke has to be better,” he said.
“I have to keep working on every aspect of my game.”