Alexei Popyrin has added Grigor Dimitrov to his growing list of prized grand slam scalps to sweep into the US Open third round for a second straight time.
The only Australian in day-three action, Popyrin overcame two rain delays, hunger pains and rallied from a service break down in the opening set on Thursday (Australian time) to advance after Dimitrov quit with a foot injury while trailing 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7- 4) 4-0.
The victory set up a date on Saturday with British 24th seed Dan Evans as Popyrin bids for a place in the second week of a major for the first time.
It’s where the 22-year-old belongs according to Australian Davis Cup captain and former US Open champion Lleyton Hewitt, who pre-tournament backed Popyrin for a deep run in New York.
Popyrin made the last 32 in 2019 before opting not to travel to the States last year during the height of the global pandemic.
But he’s quickly making up for lost time.
Despite a lean run since Wimbledon, the young gun thrives in best-of-five-set tennis and on the sport’s biggest stages, as evident by grand slam triumphs already over 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem, two-time Flushing Meadows semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta and former Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Showing true steel, he also saved match points before taking down David Goffin, the 2017 season-ending championship runner-up to Dimitrov, at this year’s Australian Open.
A semi-finalist two years ago in New York, Dimitrov loomed as a major obstacle for Popyrin.
The Bulgarian 15th seed established an early 4-1 lead on Thursday but Popyrin broke back then snatched the first set in a tiebreaker.
After taking the second in similar fashion, Popyrin raced through the first games of the third set in the blink of an eye before Dimitrov packed it in.
The one-time world No.3 had earlier sought treatment for the injury after the first set, but Popyrin felt he had Dimitrov’s measure regardless.
“It was a high-level match. He’s a really tough opponent to play but we came out with the right tactics and implemented them really well,” he said.
“He countered them quite well as well so I had to figure out a way in the first set how to get back from a break down and I’m just happy I was able to maintain that level over the course of the first two sets and then unfortunately he had to retire.”
The match was supposed to start mid-morning and the first weather delay threw Popyrin out of routine.
“I didn’t feel the best,” he said.
“At the time I came out there, it’s usually my lunchtime and I had a really early breakfast so I didn’t feel full of energy when I came out on court.”
But the second stoppage, after he’d claimed the first set, proved a godsend.
“If we had have continued I would have played on adrenaline and forgotten about the hunger but when I went out on court, I remembered the hunger so when I came back in I had a few bananas and a few bars,” Popyrin said.
“I didn’t feel that good on the court but I tried to stay focused on my serve and that was good.
“I’m just happy to be in the third round again.”