His better-known elders haven’t covered themselves with glory at the French Open, but 17-year-old Alexei Popyrin has raised the flag on high after becoming Australia’s first French Open junior champion in 49 years.
The third seed downed Spain’s Nicola Kuhn 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 on Saturday to become Australia’s first boys’ champion in Paris since Phil Dent in 1968, the first year of the professional era.
The Sydney-born teenager was overjoyed after joining legends Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe as only the fifth Australian to have his name added to the honour roll in the event’s 70-year history.
“There is a lot of good names. I’m happy to be part of it. It feels amazing,” Popyrin said.
“Winning any tournament feels great, but especially when you win a Grand Slam, you feel over the moon.
“It’s what you have been working for. It’s what you have been striving for. It’s just great to get that step done.
“Now we have to move on to the pros and try to do the same in the next level.”
The 17-year-old, who stands 195cm and models his game on Juan Martin del Potro, said his junior career was likely finished, despite the temptation of Wimbledon being just around the corner.
“For now I can only get into Futures (events). We better go in that future grind,” Popyrin said when asked what’s next.
While Emerson, Rosewall and Newcombe went on to amass 27 Grand Slam singles titles between them, Dent’s greatest claim to fame – apart from being the only player to ever beat six-time French Open champion Bjorn Borg at the Australian Open – was helping Australia win the 1977 Davis Cup.
Now Popyrin has similar aspirations.
“I would love to play in Davis Cup, love to be an orange boy at least, maybe, this year or maybe next year,” he said.
“Yeah, for sure winning Davis Cup for my country is one of the main goals also.”
Revealing that he and Thanasi Kokkinakis “go way back”, Popyrin has already had a taste of the unique team experience.
“I went to the Davis Cup in Glasgow a couple years ago for the Junior Davis Cup also and we met some of the pros there, like Sam Groth, [Bernard] Tomic, Thanasi were there, and Lleyton Hewitt was there,” he said.
Skipper Hewitt is now every chance of taking the young claycourt talent to Europe in September for “orange boy duties” when Australia plays Belgium in the 2017 World Group semi-finals.