Novak Djokovic (Serbia, No. 1) has narrowly missed out on a spot in the Australian Open V11. He fought off a stiff challenge from home-court favorite Alexey Popirin (AUS, 43rd). After a grueling three hours and 11 minutes, Djokovic had the last laugh.
Djokovic defeated Popirin 6-3 4-6 7-6(4) 6-3 in the second round of the men’s singles on Sunday at Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park Road in Melbourne, Australia. Like the first round, it was a ‘win, lose, win’ 3-1 set score.
In the first set, it looked like Djokovic was going to close out the match easily. Popirin looked nervous and made a series of easy errors. He fought off three break points, but eventually broke Djokovic in the eighth game. In the process, three points were saved by unforced errors from Popirin. Djokovic saved the last point with a forehand winner to break and eventually take the first set.
But Popirin came alive in the second set. The 6-foot-4 Serb, who is known for his powerful serve, started to find his stride in the second set. The fourth game was decisive, as Djokovic held serve. Popirin won the net play battle with Djokovic, baffling him with a brilliant backhand passing move. He broke that game and held his own service game to take a 4-1 lead.
Djokovic broke in the ninth game to cut the deficit to 4-5. He had a chance to break back in the 10th game, but made a series of uncharacteristic Djokovic errors. Eventually, Djokovic broke again to give Popirin the set and the match.
The match became even more intense in the third set. They held each other’s service games and refused to relinquish the initiative. With the momentum in his favor, Popyrin could have completely broken, but Djokovic regained his focus with six service aces, 17 winners, and only 11 unforced errors. Popyrin, who was completely out of sorts in the second set, kept up his strong offense and eventually forced the third set into a tiebreak.
Djokovic, the ‘King of Tiebreaks’, showed his intensity once again. In the third set tiebreak, Djokovic had two unforced errors compared to five for Popirin. Five of those points came from unforced errors by Popirin, not from Djokovic’s attack. The Australian fans in Rod Laver Arena let out a collective sigh of disappointment after each of Popirin’s errors.
Steadying himself, Djokovic closed out the match in the fourth set. Once again, Popirin’s mistakes proved costly. Popirin made back-to-back errors in his third service game (sixth game overall) that he should have held, allowing Djokovic to break with a love game. In fact, it was this game that sealed the match.
Djokovic held his serve until the end and eventually closed out the match. Djokovic’s unwavering focus in close games was his greatest strength.
Djokovic hit 31 winners in the match. He certainly wasn’t as aggressive in terms of absolute offense as Popirin, who had 52. However, his ability to stay in the match and minimize mistakes was still top-notch. Djokovic had no double faults throughout the match and only 32 unforced errors. Popirin, on the other hand, had four double faults and a whopping 58 unforced errors.
Most importantly, Popirin was able to take the second set and completely control the momentum. However, a lapse in concentration in the third set tiebreak proved to be the decisive factor. He had a big mountain to climb, and he failed.
Despite his victory, Djokovic continued to show signs of discomfort in his wrist during today’s match. Djokovic said he had wrist pain at the United States Cup in early January, but in both the first and second rounds of the Australian Open, he continued to show signs of discomfort in his wrist. The condition of his wrist will be the biggest factor in whether or not Djokovic achieves a V11 at the Australian Open.
In the third round, Djokovic will face another tall player, the 6-foot-3 Etcheverry. Etcheverry is coming off a 3-0 straight sets win over Gael Montpellier (FRA) to reach the third round. Djokovic holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage. Both matches took place in 2023.
This match was also a sellout crowd. With Djokovic, the ‘King of the Australian Open’, facing off against Poppirin on home court, a huge crowd packed Rod Laver Arena. Those who couldn’t get in were forced to watch the match on screens on the outdoor lawn.