The last time Australian James Duckworth played countryman Alexei Popyrin in California, in an ATP Challenger Tour event in 2018, he needed a final-set tie-break to triumph. Popyrin tested Duckworth again on Monday in the first round of the San Diego Open, but the veteran again found a way through.
The seventh seed surged past Popyrin 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 behind 14 aces in two hours and 20 minutes to reach the second round. Duckworth saved six of the eight break points he faced to move to 2-0 in his ATP Head2Head series with Popyrin.
“It was a really tough match. I’m good mates with ‘Pop’,” Duckworth said. “We actually were practising together just before the draw came out. Unfortunately we drew each other. It’s funny this week, there are four Aussies and we’re all playing each other first round.
“It was a really tough match. He served great, was hitting his forehand really well, and I’m just really happy to get through in the end.”
The 30-year-old will next try to reach his second tour-level quarter-final of the year, having advanced to the last eight in Newport in July. He will play one of two American qualifiers: Christopher Eubanks or Mitchell Krueger.
Duckworth has found form in recent weeks, having made an ATP Challenger Tour final in France earlier this month. It is an important week for the Australian, who is defending 150 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points this week that he earned last year by reaching the final in Nur-Sultan.
“It would have been nice not to get broken early in that second set,” Wolf said. “But he’s a great player, very difficult to play against, so I was happy with my performance. It was just a gritty day.”
Tomas Martin Etcheverry won an all-Argentine clash against qualifier Facundo Mena 7-6(6), 6-3 in two hours and six minutes. The World No. 89 will next challenge third seed Marcos Giron of the United States.
The final match of the day proved a pulsating one, but home favourite Brandon Holt was ultimately unable to back up his recent strong form in his first-round clash against Constant Lestienne. The Frenchman edged Holt, who reached the second round at the US Open as a qualifier, in a two-hour, 43-minute encounter, prevailing 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3 to book a second-round meeting against sixth seed Alejandro Tabilo or Steve Johnson.