Home » Why Aussie tennis star Alexei Popyrin doesn’t fear Novak Djokovic ahead of their Wimbledon third round match on Centre Court – ‘just another player’

Why Aussie tennis star Alexei Popyrin doesn’t fear Novak Djokovic ahead of their Wimbledon third round match on Centre Court – ‘just another player’

Why Aussie tennis star Alexei Popyrin doesn’t fear Novak Djokovic ahead of their Wimbledon third round match on Centre Court – ‘just another player’

Alexei Popyrin can hardly believe a supposed once-in-a-lifetime chance has actually come around twice, as he prepares to face Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.

And if Popyrin manages to stun the Serbian, he could eventually face fellow Aussie Alex de Minaur in the quarter-finals.

That still feels a mighty long way off, as seven-time champion Djokovic will be a formidable obstacle in the third round on Sunday (AEST).

It comes as ninth seed de Minaur is a warm favourite to down resurgent former French No.1 Lucas Pouille, the world No.212, in another clash which would put him in the last 16.

Popyrin played alongside ‘Demon’ when they were young, but has watched his friend surge to becoming a top-10 player – while he still dreams of the big breakthrough he feels his talent and dedication will eventually produce.

‘I think what Alex is doing drives every Aussie a lot,’ Popyrin said.

‘For me, it ‘s extra motivation seeing he’s in the top 10 and competing for slams and Masters titles. He is what we all strive for, his level, his career, it’s unbelievable.

‘And he’s got more to give for sure. ‘But I feel like I do have the game to be able to play at that level too.’

Aussie tennis star Alexei Popyrin is brimming with confidence as he prepares to face Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon

The world number 47 labelled seven-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic 'just another player'

The world number 47 labelled seven-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic ‘just another player’

And what a stage to prove it. Popyrin was allocated his first Centre Court outing, a privilege he and coach Neville Godwin, who have played a dozen Wimbledon’s between them, have never before enjoyed.

Playing Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open in January felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the 24-year-old Popyrin, but he left frustrated after having set points to go 2-1 up only to eventually lose in four sets.

Yet now another dream opportunity has arisen, the chance to play the great man on Centre, and he is determined to make this visit count, especially with more than a few question marks hanging over Djokovic’s sharpness after his recent knee operation.

While still assuming ‘Djokovic will be different beast at Wimbledon’ and not wanting to make any wild predictions, the world No.47 declared: ‘I know I can do it.

‘In Australia, I think I gave a really good account for myself. I genuinely believe I would have won that match if I had won that second set, I feel like I was in the driving seat. I felt super, super comfortable out there. And I enjoyed every moment.

‘He’s a super solid player. But I do feel he gives you chances every now and then. Not many, but when he does, you have to take it. Because if you don’t, he’ll make you pay.’

Asked if not winning had gnawed way at him, Popyrin shrugged: ‘Definitely. I came off court, quite frustrated with myself that I didn’t get those break points.’

He certainly won’t be overawed by the occasion, having previously played Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena and Rafael Nadal on Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open.

Serbian tennis legend Novak Djokovic labelled Aussie Alexei Popyrin a 'super solid player'

Serbian tennis legend Novak Djokovic labelled Aussie Alexei Popyrin a ‘super solid player’

‘If you’d asked me two, three years ago, I’d probably have said I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at night thinking of the match. But now I’m going out there like it’s just another match against just another player,’ he said.

‘And I feel like I have the level to be able to cause problems.’

Djokovic agrees.

‘We had a very good match in Australia. He improved his backhand a lot and his movement. That was maybe not as good in the past. He’s becoming a complete player. He’s not afraid to finish the point at the net,’ Djokovic said.

‘If he serves well, it’s very tough to play. Anybody on the grass that serves as good as he does …..I guess one of the keys will be how good I’ll be at reading his serves and get it back in play, make him work for his points.

‘I’m expecting obviously a tough challenge.’