Australian Popyrin offers glimpse of potential with Singapore win

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Alexei Popyrin has blossomed quietly in the shadows of compatriots Nick Kyrgios and Alex De Minaur in recent years but on Sunday the rangy 21-year-old grabbed the spotlight with his maiden ATP title in Singapore.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Australian Open – Third Round – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 25, 2020. Australia’s Alexei Popyrin in action during his match against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Having never before surmounted the quarter-finals of an ATP event, Popyrin overhauled Kazakh Alexander Bublik 4-6 6-0 6-2 in the Singapore Open decider to continue his eye-catching start to the season.

Popyrin now has an 8-2 winning record in 2021, having upset David Goffin in the Australian Open first round and former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic in the Singapore semi-finals.

“To have a start like I’m having this year is definitely showing how much work I put in the pre-season,” he told the ATP website.

“I keep saying it and I’m going to keep saying it throughout the whole year: I think the work I put in during the pre-season this year was unbelievable.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian tennis is in rude health.

Popyrin, whose ranking has now shot to a career-high 82, is one of five Australians in the men’s top 100, with De Minaur (23) leading the way.

Ash Barty remains world number one in the women’s side, with Ajla Tomljanovic (74) second among Australians.

Big things have been expected from Popyrin since he won the French Open junior singles title in 2017.

A protege of the France-based academy run by Serena Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou, Popyrin has reached several promising milestones, winning a match at all four Grand Slams and making the third round at the Australian and U.S. Opens.

Standing 6ft-5in tall, managed by Russian parents and equipped with thumping ground-strokes, Popyrin conforms to the mould of beanpole youths who are reshaping the men’s game like Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev.

So far this season, Popyrin has also shown a promising mental resilience and a ruthless streak to convert his chances on court.

In Singapore, he won all five tiebreaks he played on the way to the final.

“I think the level-headedness that I had (was key), I was always trying to stay positive, stay calm as much as I could because I knew that I would have opportunities and to take those opportunities, you have to be calm,” he said.

The win will open doors to tournaments with better prize money but Popyrin said celebrations would be low-key.

“I’ll celebrate by hopping on a flight in three hours and flying back home to see my family,” he said.

“Maybe I’ll upgrade my ticket to business class, but that’s it.”

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Shri Navaratnam