Alexei Popyrin hits a return to Laslo Djere on Wednesday night. Picture: Getty Images
Alexei Popyrin hits a return to Laslo Djere on Wednesday night. Picture: Getty Images

Popyrin makes rising clay star earn keep

Alexei Popyrin has departed the French Open in second-round defeat - but with a provisional career-high ranking and the knowledge he belongs at the highest level.

The lanky 19-year-old was smothered into 6-4 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 defeat by inspirational Serb Laslo Djere, but not before showcasing undeniable quality.

The 2017 Roland Garros junior champion stretched a seriously good claycourter - and a man who has overcome more adversity than most - over three tight sets.

With a bit of luck, he might have converted just one of the six break points he grafted in a contest decided by just 12 points - 113-101.

But the towering Australian was denied by a seasoned professional with more to play for than most.

At just 23, Djere has lost both his parents to cancer and essentially contests every match imagining they are courtside watching him.

The Serb consults a psychologist regularly to channel his thoughts and used the tool earlier this season to beat last year's French finalist Dominic Thiem and US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro.

Alexei Popyrin hits a return to Laslo Djere on Wednesday night. Picture: Getty Images
Alexei Popyrin hits a return to Laslo Djere on Wednesday night. Picture: Getty Images

Yet Popyrin showed remarkable poise and maturity in a two hour, 15 minute stoush.

"I can gain confidence from this; I played well today, even though I lost," he said, adding that he needed to impose himself more on the decisive points.

"Every match I play on this level will give me more and more belief that I can play, no matter if I win or lose," he said.

"Obviously I'm not happy with the loss, but I'm happy with the way I played."

Popyrin said a strategic move to Spain nine years ago "had paid off" but that he still had plenty to learn on clay despite winning the junior crown in Paris two years ago.

With no plans to relocate from Europe yet, Popyrin will return to the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in Nice before playing on the grass of Stuttgart and Queens before Wimbledon, where he is slated for qualifying.

"I feel pretty good any time I serve well on any surface," Popyrin said.

"I haven't played on it (grass) for a while, first time in about three years, so I've got a lot to learn and hopefully I can learn."

News Corp Australia


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