Five-set drama: Popyrin bows out, Spanish teen upsets Tsitsipas

New York: Australian Alexei Popyrin was left devastated after succumbing to 24th seed Dan Evans in a four-hour battle at the US Open on Saturday (AEST), with both players receiving a standing ovation at the end of the gripping match.

Popyrin, 22, won the first two sets to get off to a flying start but the English veteran stormed back to reach the last 16 at the US Open for the first time, prevailing 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).

Popyrin had also been aiming to reach the fourth round of a grand slam tournament for the first time in his career, and while he had more winners than Evans, he was broken five times and had 13 double faults, including one on match point.

It was not the only dramatic five-setter to take place at Flushing Meadows, as 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz upset No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 0-6, 7-6 (7-5) in just over four hours to become the youngest man in the fourth round in New York since a couple of guys named Pete Sampras and Michael Chang in 1989.

Until now, Alcaraz has exhibited enough promise and precociousness to make people think he eventually could succeed Rafael Nadal as Spain’s top tennis player, and the victory over Tsitsipas showed why he’s been getting so much attention already.

With a tenacity to match his talent, he was boosted by a rowdy Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd a tad tired of Tsitsipas’ penchant for taking lengthy breaks between sets.

Alexei Popyrin reacts after losing in the third round of the US Open.Credit:Getty Images

“This victory means a lot to me. This is the best match of my career. The best win,” said the 55th-ranked Alcaraz, who was participating in only his 10th grand slam contest. “Dream come true for me.”

He made sure during his on-court interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium to thank the fans, who are making up for last year’s absence — no spectators were allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic then, but it’s full capacity now — with plenty of noise.

“He can be a contender for grand slam titles,” said Tsitsipas, the runner-up at the French Open this year. “He has the game to be there.”

In earlier action, three women with multiple major titles each — Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber — pulled out three-set victories to advance to the second week.

Big moment: Teenager Carlos Alcaraz after defeating world No.3 Stefanos Tsitsipas.Credit:AP

Muguruza got past Victoria Azarenka, a three-time US Open runner-up including a year ago, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 and next faces French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. Kerber, who won the title in New York in 2016, defeated 2017 champ Sloane Stephens 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. And Halep was a 7-6 (11-9), 4-6, 6-3 winner over Elena Rybakina.

Alcaraz showed off so many skills against Tsitsipas. Big cuts off both wings, so big that this was the assessment offered by Tsitsipas: “I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard.” And that was backed up by the stats, none more remarkable than the one showing that Alcaraz finished with 45 winners off forehands and backhands, compared with 14 for Tsitsipas.

This is the sort of triumph others have seen coming for him, and the milestones keep arriving.

He already was the youngest man to make two third-round runs at a major since Novak Djokovic in 2005. And the youngest to win at least one match at each slam in a year since 1989, when that was done by Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion who now is one of Djokovic’s coaches.

Now add this: Alcaraz is the youngest man to beat a top-three player at a grand slam tournament since the ATP computerised rankings started in 1973.

“It was supposed to be my match. Today was a match that I shouldn’t have lost,” said Tsitsipas.

“You feel like you’re in control and it doesn’t really go your way at the end. It’s kind of bitter, I would say.”

AP

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