Alex Bolt knocks out France’s Gilles Simon.
Alex Bolt knocks out France’s Gilles Simon.

Groth: why this is life-changing for blokes like Bolt

FOR all the debate around who got a wildcard for this year's Australian Open, I think it's safe to say the right decisions were made.

Alex Bolt and Alexei Popyrin are making the nation proud but also changing their lives as players.

It's not been an easy road for Bolty. I've known him a very long time. We played Davis Cup together and some footy.

He's just a really good country bloke. Not too much ego, not overly loud.

He isn't going to walk into a room and demand to be the centre of attention, but he's also not afraid to speak his mind.

Good guy Alex Bolt before his huge third-round encounter. Picture: Michael Klein
Good guy Alex Bolt before his huge third-round encounter. Picture: Michael Klein

You can tell by his hairstyle he's not scared to let his feelings and emotions be known. He puts it out there but remains a good guy.

You don't always get that combination in tennis.

I respect him a lot because not a lot of people would have done what he's done - to admit he wasn't happy, take a break from the sport, go and do manual labour, play some footy and then work so hard to get back into it.

Before the break he wasn't in the greatest shape, but he's come back a lot stronger. He didn't let up on court three -  he's fit enough and he's doing the work. He has fight.

The break says a lot about him as a person. I wouldn't say it would work for everyone but Bolty realised what he wanted. He stepped back and rediscovered his passion and his happiness.

He has a new perspective and it's starting to pay dividends.

I'm thrilled for him not just because he's done it tough off the court but not everyone understands the pressure of playing challenger.

You just try and get by week by week. There's constant financial pressure.

You can't buy a house or plan for regular things, so what's happening for him and Popyrin is life-changing.

The pay cheque at the end of his tournament will do wonders for Alex Bolt.
The pay cheque at the end of his tournament will do wonders for Alex Bolt.

It sets up the year. If you want to travel for the season - with a coach - you're already looking at $150,000. For Bolty, now he's not starting the season in the red.

Having his coach with him is a big change not just to his game but his mental health - it's lonely on your own.

The top guys have  coaches, physios and trainers - Bolty hasn't ever had that.

Now he can book himself flights and not worry about how he is getting to tournaments.

He might not have to share a room with people on the tour; he might have the freedom to sleep. If his mate wants to go out partying all night he won't have to worry about being woken up.

It will do wonder for his profile. There's nothing better than a good run at your home grand slam and Bolty needs to ride this wave

The pressure it takes off him is significant.

For Popyrin it's a bit different because of his age.

He's a French Open junior winner so he has the sponsorship and more of the luxuries that come with winning when you're young.

Alex Bolt celebrates his victory over France’s Gilles Simon. Picture: AAP
Alex Bolt celebrates his victory over France’s Gilles Simon. Picture: AAP

He's a good kid as well; softly spoken and likes to keep himself to himself. There's no ego.

But managing the success he's having this week will be tough. There will be even more expectation on him going forward.

He's already been touted as "Australia's next star" and we've seen all too often what that kind of pressure can do and how it can go wrong.

It's hard to carry the weight of expectation. We've seen it on Nick Kyrgios and others.

Some handle it well, some don't.

For both of them, however, the biggest pressure will be how they back up from this tournament.

Let's not forget that even with a projected new world ranking of 128, Bolty still has to go through qualifying for grand slams and is not handed entry to other tournaments. He is back to the challenger level.

Alex Bolt doesn’t have the ego but isn’t afraid to let his emotions be known.
Alex Bolt doesn’t have the ego but isn’t afraid to let his emotions be known.

So as great as he has done this week, as soon as he leaves Australia the onus is on him to build on the momentum.

Add to that the fact that he will have a third-round points tally to defend here next year.

This week hasn't opened the door for him - it's ajar and now he has to bust through it.

For Popyrin it's a little less pressure. He will no doubt continue to get wildcards to the majors.

One thing I'm certain of, they have both done more than enough to validate the fact they got one here.

There will always be debate over who gets them - it happens every tournament, not just in Australia. Of course everyone wants one and thinks they deserve one.

You can't always base the decision on results alone.

These guys deserved them and I can't wait to see how they build on it.

One thing's for sure, we will all be right behind them.

News Corp Australia


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