Two weeks in a hotel has been a breeze for Alexei Popyrin, who says he’d do anything for another chance to walk onto Rod Laver Arena next month.
Labelling critics of the biosecurity measures short-sighted, Popyrin has embraced the unique circumstances and, after quarantining in Melbourne following a two-week training stint in Dubai with a string of the world’s best players, will arrive at the Australian Open in the best shape of his young career.
The 21-year-old Sydneysider, who is ranked 114 and outside automatic entry for the grand slam’s main draw, has reason to be grateful as he will earn a spot as one of the tournament’s last wildcards yet to officially be announced.
But he also has reason to be optimistic after back-to-back third-round round appearances at Melbourne Park, last year beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before falling to world No.4 Daniil Medvedev on centre court.
He will begin his year on Monday at the Murray River Open, an ATP 250 event headlined by Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov and countrymen Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.
“There are people dying (from COVID-19) all over the world and we’re here complaining about a two-week quarantine when we get the opportunity to go out and play the game we love for money,” he told AAP.
“What people in Melbourne and Australia had to go through, being locked down for three months, not being able to leave your house, they don’t want that again.
“The government has taken a really big risk at letting us in and they’re doing everything they can to prevent the virus getting out.
“For us to complain about that is a bit short-sighted, so I think we need to look at the bigger picture … not many sportspeople get this opportunity so I would do anything I could to be out here competing.”
Not among those stuck in hard lock down, Popyrin has enjoyed daily practice sessions with American young gun Frances Tiafoe, while he completed a lengthy six-week preseason hitting with top players Karen Khachanov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Gael Monfils and Denis Shapovalov in Dubai.
“It’s the best preseason I’ve had to any year; I feel I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been and can really produce a higher intensity for a longer period and really feeling confident in my game,” Popyrin said.
“It’s much tougher against the big dogs; they have different tricks and ways to compete and the quality of the ball, it’s much heavier.
Popyrin peaked at world No.87 in 2019 but, despite winning at least one match at each major that year, has struggled to nail down a top-100 spot since.
“Playing on the big stage at a home slam against Medvedev; that was a highlight and I want that opportunity again to show my worth,” he said.