SINGAPORE — It may not have had major men's tennis stars, but the Singapore Tennis Open could have unearthed a young talent to watch in the future, as unseeded Australian Alexei Popyrin completed a fairy-tale week by clinching his first-ever ATP Tour title at the OCBC Arena on Sunday (28 February).
The 21-year-old – who had ousted former US Open champion Marin Cilic in the semi-finals – came from behind to stun fourth-seeded Alexander Bublik 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 to win an enthralling men's singles final in front of 250 spectators.
It capped an excellent week for the world No. 114, who could barely believe his achievement in beating his world No. 46 opponent.
"I don't think it's a feeling that I'll ever feel again, to be honest," Popyrin said of the moment of triumph. "Maybe I'll feel it again if I ever win my first Grand Slam title, but this is unbelievable.
"I've always had the belief that I can compete with the top guys, those in the top 20. There's still a lot of hard work to be done to get to that level, but this is a good start for me."
Resolve and focus in come-from-behind win
Popyrin had once been coached by Lleyton Hewitt, the famously intense Australia star who battled his way to two Grand Slam titles in the 2000s. And the youngster displayed a similar resolve as his mentor during the final of the ATP250 tournament, keeping up his powerful serves and scintillating returns as Bublik slowly lost focus.
In the decisive sixth game of the third set, both players traded advantage points but could not get the winning point. As Bublik got increasingly frustrated, mumbling angrily to himself, Popyrin kept up his strong returns and forced the decisive error on his opponent to seize control of the match.
"I played a sloppy service game, and that cost me the first set. But that was the only sloppy game I had in the match," he said.
"I knew my opponent was a little up and down mentally, so I knew that if I could get a quick start in the second set, I would win it. The third set was a grind, but I felt like I could finally read his serve, and that was the most important thing."
Resurgence after lacklustre COVID-19 year
Popyrin, who will reach a career high in the world rankings after this tournament victory, had shown great promise in 2019 when he reached the main draw of all four Grand Slams, and even claimed a huge scalp in beating then-world No. 8 Dominic Thiem in the Australian Open.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic halted his momentum last year, and he is glad that he has got off on the right foot this year.
"The initial months of training during the COVID-19 lockdown last year, I didn't do it too professionally, and I gained a few kilos, and was not the fittest I could be. So last year, there weren't many great results," he said.
"But from last December, my team and I worked really really hard to get me back to my best, and it's good that it's paying off this early in the season.
"A lot of sacrifices, dedication and hard work went into this – myself, my team and my family. I'm just so proud I could get it done here."
Final defeats 'starting to hurt' for runner-up
For Bublik, it was his fourth final loss in his career, and the 23-year-old admitted after the game that such defeats are "starting to hurt".
"It is what it is, Alexei was the better player in the final, so I have to try to move on," he said. "I believe I can still take positives from this week, I played some good matches, and now I have to find more opportunities to play and win."
In the men's doubles final, top seeds Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen of Belgium defeated Australia's Matthew Ebden and John-Patrick Smith 6-2, 6-3.
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