Alexei Popyrin has exited the Australian Open following a spirited display in his straight sets loss to talented American Ben Shelton in the third round.
- Shelton got the better of Popyrin, winning 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4
- Popyrin was coming off two five-set matches
- His defeat leaves Alex de Minaur as the only Australian in the singles main draws
The young Australian had become one of the stories of the tournament when he recorded consecutive five-set victories in the opening two rounds, including a win over world number nine Taylor Fritz.
But having spent more than eight hours on court this week, Popyrin’s legs could not carry him to another win, with Shelton triumphing 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.
Despite the result, 113th-ranked Popyrin had reason to be proud of his third-round finish, having come off a horror 2022 season in which he won only five ATP Tour matches.
His defeat leaves Alex de Minaur as the only Australian left in the singles main draws.
A packed John Cain Arena created a raucous atmosphere, but 20-year-old Shelton was not intimidated, showing why he is one of the up-and-coming stars of US tennis with a cool temperament and an athletic game.
His serve was solid, as he did not give up a break while tallying 12 aces, and the world number 89’s silky movement around the court is also a strength.
Shelton, whose father Bryan was a tour professional in the 1980s and 1990s, is making his Australian Open debut in just his second appearance at a major.
He was one of eight Americans to reach the third round in Melbourne and will play compatriot JJ Wolf for a quarterfinal berth on Monday.
Shelton and Popyrin both relied heavily on their impressive serves in the first set, with the American left-hander leading the ace count 6-5.
Popyrin, who was awarded a wildcard into the main draw, did have a break point in the opening game, but Shelton recovered to hold.
Play was briefly paused in the fourth game when a spectator appeared to faint in the crowd, but the turning point of the set came not long after, when Shelton broke Popyrin’s serve.
Popyrin saved the first break point, however he could not repeat the dose on the second, allowing Shelton to establish a 4-2 lead.
Shelton did not lose a point in his next two service games, as he wrapped up the first set with relative ease.
Shelton moves further ahead
Just as he did in the opening two rounds, Popyrin showed his fighting spirit when he had his back to the wall.
A booming ace saved the third of three break points in the fifth game, before he applied pressure of his own to Shelton’s serve.
In the sixth game, Popyrin had three break points, however Shelton cooly worked his way of trouble to hold for 3-3.
After earlier struggling to hold, Popyrin shifted gears and served out three consecutive games to love as the set headed towards a tie-break.
Given the respective strength of their serves, it always seemed the tie-break would be a case who blinked first.
Unfortunately for Popyrin, he found himself trailing 1-4 and it proved to be a deficit he could not completely make up, despite the show of support from the crowd, who were chanting “Poppy, Poppy” to inspire the local hope.
Leading two sets to love, Shelton was brimming with confidence, as illustrated with he poked a neat drop shot over the net during the first game of the third.
Popyrin had no chance of chasing it down, the moment almost symbolizing how Shelton was always one step ahead of his opponent.
Games were on serve in the third set when Popyrin was serving to stay in the match at 4-5, but Shelton won four consecutive points to close out the win, right on two hours.