‘Rafael Nadal shouldn’t have taken the third set, I had it in my hands,’ says Popyrin

Facing the king of clay Rafael Nadal for the second time this spring, Alexei Popyrin gave his best before falling in straight sets in the Roland Garros opening round. Rafa toppled the young Aussie and a former junior champion 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 in two hours and 23 minutes for his 101st Roland Garros win from 103 encounters! Like in Madrid a few weeks ago, Popyrin stepped on the court determined to impose his strokes and move the 13-time champion away from the comfort zone. Alexei hit more winners than Rafa and challenged him in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, standing a point away from securing the third set before Nadal bounced back to seal the deal in straight sets.

Rafa saved two set points and stole it in the tie break to claim the 26th consecutive set in Paris and move into the second round. Alexei had more winners than Rafa and more unforced errors, failing to create enough damage on the return and wasting a massive 5-2 advantage in the third set to end his run in the opening round. Speaking about the match and his performance, the young Aussie stated that he should have won the third set after creating those two set points behind the initial shot in the ninth game. 

Alexei Popyrin wasted two set points against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

“I think the emotion right now is definitely a disappointment. I choked in that third set; I could have and should have taken to the fourth. We chalk this one down to experience, but I don’t want to chalk many matches down to experience much longer. I think I’m experienced enough not to waste a 5-3 40-30 advantage. You know, I’m disappointed with that, but overall, I think I played a good game. I think the moment got to my head a bit. You know, taking a set off Nadal, especially at Roland Garros, is not the easiest thing to do. I won’t let it happen again, and I think this is a one-off for me.

If I have set points on my serve, I expect to take it and win the set. What can I say about Rafa’s comments? I’ve got to agree with the greatest of all time. You know, if he says it, then it must be true. It’s obviously amazing to hear it from him. But I don’t think it’s something that my team and I didn’t know already. I think we know that I have the game to make it to the top. It’s just a matter of consistency, of keeping up with the hard work and grinding away, step by step. I always have a belief that I’ll be able to get to the top,” Alexei Popyrin said.