According to Alexei Popyrin, playing in front of passionate Australian fans is an unforgettable experience.
Melbourne, Australia, 13 January 2024 | Leigh Rogers
For Australian tennis players, there’s nothing better than playing in front of loud and proud Aussie fans.
“It’s amazing,” Alexei Popyrin said of the experience. “We wait the whole year to come back and play at home.
“I think it’s probably the best experience that an Aussie player can have, playing in front of a packed and rowdy crowd.”
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Some of Popyrin’s most memorable moments on Australian soil have come at Melbourne Park.
He bravely saved four match points to defeat No.13 seed David Goffin in the opening round at Australian Open 2021.
The 24-year-old thrilled Aussie fans last summer too, winning two five-set epics to progress to the AO 2023 third round. This included a second-round upset of eighth seed Taylor Fritz.
It is a memory that now evokes many positive emotions for the world No.43.
“Honestly, the way I played the match, the way I handled myself on the court,” Popyrin said of what he remembers most from his biggest Grand Slam victory to date.
“It can be tough playing when you have a huge crowd around you, but I managed it really well. I seem to play better when I have that crowd and the extra pressure.”
World No.63 Aleksandar Vukic wholeheartedly agrees that the Australian crowds inspire him to greater heights.
“When I think about the Aussie Open, I think of the crowd and I think of everyone getting fired up,” he said.
“There’s so much emotion, I’ve almost got to calm myself down every time I think about it. It’s very exciting.”
Vukic made his Grand Slam breakthrough as a wildcard at AO 2022, upsetting No.30 seed Lloyd Harris in the opening round. The Sydneysider won an entertaining four-set battle at Court 3 in front of a vocal and patriotic crowd.
“That was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in,” Vukic recalled.
“I can see why these top guys want to keep playing, because you always want to get that feeling back again. It was amazing. It was probably one of my favourite matches, if not my favourite match ever.”
Vukic, who reached his first ATP singles final and subsequently broke into the world’s top 50 during a career-best 2023, admits it’s hard not to get caught up in the crowd excitement when competing.
“For sure, you take notice. You hear everything pretty much but have to try to stay as focused as you can,” he said.
“Sometimes you do crack a smile at some cheeky comments in the crowd.”
Chris O’Connell further delighted local fans at AO 2022, scoring a victory against world No.13 Diego Schwartzman in his march into the third round.
“Walking out onto Court 3 with the crowd going bonkers was quite cool,” said O’Connell, who was a wildcard ranked No.175 at the time.
“It’s such a good feeling.”
It proved a full circle moment for O’Connell, who has fond memories of being a courtside fan himself during the Australian summer of tennis.
“As a little kid I used to get excited to watch the Aussie guys play,” said O’Connell, whose ranking peaked at world No.53 in 2023.
“(So) I do have those moments where I’m like ‘wow’.”