Nadal makes stunning prediction for Aussie after epic choke

Aussie Alexei Popyrin admitted he “choked” against Rafael Nadal in their French Open first round match — but the clay court king saw something very different.

The tennis icon was incredibly impressed with what he saw from the 21-year-old rising star.

His respect for Popyrin comes despite the former French Open junior champion suffering a mini-meltdown when facing the rare prospect of winning a set off Nadal in the first round on Wednesday morning.

Only twice before has Nadal coughed up a set in the first round at Roland Garros in 17 visits to the Paris clay — and Popyrin simply dropped his bundle when serving with two set points at 5-2.

A double fault was followed by a wild put-away smash — those mistakes were the only chance he would get as Nadal went on clinch a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) victory.

Popyrin said after the match he was disappointed with himself after letting such an opportunity slip through his fingers. You only get one chance with Nadal — a 13-times Roland Garros champion — on clay, and he blew it.

Alexei Popyrin of Australia congratulates Rafael Nadal. Getty.Source:Getty Images

“The moment got to my head a little bit, taking a set off Nadal, especially at Roland-Garros, is not the easiest thing to do,” Popyrin said.

He also said: “I think the emotion right now is definitely disappointment. Choked in that third set, could have taken to the fourth, should have taken it to the fourth”.

Nadal has a freakish 101-2 record at the French Open and hasn’t lost a set at the tournament since 2019.

Popyrin can more than hold his head high after getting as close as he did.

Nadal believes so too.

He described Popyrin as a future star of the game and was impressed with the “bombs” Popyrin was sending his way from the other side of the net.

“With this serve, with this kind of shots from the baseline, you have everything to become a top player,” he said.

“If he wants to do it, of course he is going to have his chances, because he has a lot of very difficult things in his game.

“He has everything to become a fantastic player.”

Rafael Nadal is chasing a 14th French crown.Source:Getty Images

Popyrin responded to Nadal’s glowing prediction by saying: “I agree. What can I say? I’ve got to agree with the greatest of all time. If he says it, then it must be true, no?”.

Nadal is now booked for a second round match with Frenchman Richard Gasquet.

The Spaniard could usurp Roger Federer at the top of the all-time men’s list with a 21st Grand Slam singles title in Paris.

Meanwhile, Aussie Alex De Minaur is through to the second round after a straight sets win over Stefano Travaglia 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).

Djokovic’s piece of history one step closer

World number one Novak Djokovic kicked off his bid for a 19th Grand Slam title with a straight sets win over Tennys Sandgren inside an empty stadium at the French Open on Tuesday.

A French government Covid-19 curfew of 9pm means that nine out of the 10 scheduled evening sessions at the tournament have to be played without spectators inside the 15,000-capacity Court Philippe Chatrier.

Djokovic saw off world number 66 Sandgren 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 for his fourth win in four meetings with the American.

Top seed Djokovic, the champion in Paris in 2016, is attempting to become the first man in more than 50 years to win all four Slams multiple times.

— with AFP

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