Alexei Popyrin has won his debut match at the Miami Open and is poised to soar to his highest world ranking after the rising Australian star defeated the oldest player in the main draw.
The 21-year-old Popyrin, who’s having an impressive breakthrough season topped by his maiden tour triumph at the Singapore Open last month, accounted for Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez 6-4 7-6 (7-4) in the first round.
After taking the opening set with two breaks of serve, Popyrin looked set to lose the second as the 39-year-old Lopez broke for a 6-5 lead, but the youngster immediately rallied to take it into a tiebreaker.
Popyrin dominated the breaker to earn four match points but Lopez saved two of them – including one with an ace – before the Spaniard offered up the unlikely gift of a double fault.
“It was a very difficult match,” Popyrin told ATPTour.com.
“Feli is a very tough player. He has an unbelievable serve, so when I had my chances to break I was putting all of my focus on the break points.
“There was no rhythm in the match, so not many rallies, but I am happy with the way I was mentally.
“There were a couple of shaky moments here and there, but I hung in to win.”
Victory gives Popyrin, who came close to beating world No.22 Karen Khachanov in Dubai last week, a second round assignment against fellow big server, American Reilly Opelka, who had a first-round bye as the 30th seed.
The aces should be flying in that encounter, which would be good news for the charity Wings for Charity, a not-for-profit research foundation which is seeking to find a cure for spinal cord injury, as Opelka has agreed to donate $100 for every one he serves in the tournament.
Regardless of the result of that match, it’s likely that Popyrin, who’s No.86 in the rankings, could now be elevated past his career-high position of No.82 earned at the start of the month after his Singapore win.
James Duckworth joined his fellow Sydneysider Popyrin in the second round with a hard-fought win over experienced German Mischa Zverev – the older brother of world No.7 Alexander Zverev.
In a see-saw battle over two hours and 14 minutes, Duckworth prevailed 6-2 4-6 6-4 to advance to a showdown with Belgian eight-seed David Goffin.
Duckworth was broken when serving for the match at 5-3 in the final set but regained his composure to close out the victory on his third match point.
Australian comeback man Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jordan Thompson and Chris O’Connell will be on court in Thursday’s first-round action while 15th-seeded Alex de Minaur has a bye into the round of 64.