At the start of the Singapore Tennis Open, Alexei Popyrin had never made it past the quarter-finals of an ATP Tour event. The Aussie had only made the last eight at tour-level once, in Atlanta in 2019.
But the 21-year-old had a dream week at this ATP 250, where he rallied past fourth seed Alexander Bublik 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 on Sunday for his first ATP Tour title.
ATPTour.com caught up with the World No. 114 after his victory to talk about his week in Singapore and the path he has taken to reach this milestone.
What does it mean to you to win your first ATP Tour title?
It means the world to me. So many people in my life have sacrificed a lot. My family especially has sacrificed so, so much for me to get where I am right now. To have won this tournament, it’s for them and for all the hard work that I’ve done during my whole life, honestly, and especially during this pre-season with my team. We grinded during this pre-season and it’s paying off.
Prior to your run here, you had never made it past the quarter-finals at an ATP Tour event. What do you think was the key to your breakthrough this week?
I think I just took it one match at a time. I didn’t think of getting past the quarter-finals or that it was a big deal of playing the semi-finals. I was focussed on every single match that I had to play. I really didn’t try getting ahead of myself, thinking that I was in the semis, in the finals. Now that I won, I can get a little ahead of myself. But in a couple of days, it’s back to work and playing tournaments again.
You now own an 8-2 record in 2021. How happy are you with your start to the season and what do you think has been the key to your success?
That’s definitely a good record for me, especially with how I ended last year and played last year. To have a start like I’m having this year is definitely showing how much work I put in the pre-season. 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. As a team we all worked so, so hard and I’m really happy with the way the season has started.
En route to the final, you won all five tie-breaks you played. What was the key to you finding your best tennis in the most crucial moments throughout this week?
I think the level-headedness that I had, 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. Especially in a tie-break, there are very few opportunities that you get, so when you get that one opportunity, you have to take it, especially when you’re a mini-break down. Even if you’re winning, you have to take those opportunities that you have. I think my level-headedness definitely during those tie-breaks was the best.
Could you take a moment to acknowledge some of the key figures in your life and career who have helped you to reach this milestone?
The key figures in my life definitely have to be my parents. My whole family, honestly. They’ve sacrificed so, so, so much for me. They’ve travelled the world with me. I remember when I was 12 years old with my family, my brother, we were playing Tennis Europe Under 12s, Under 14s. The whole family, we rented a seven-seater and we would go for three, four months just playing tournament after tournament.
My grandma, my little sister, my mom, my dad, my brother, me, we would all be in that car and we would just travel from Italy to Slovakia to Slovenia to Spain to France to all these places, all together in that one car. That’s the sacrifice that everybody has made for me. My parents and my whole family have been the most influential people in my life.
Tell us a little about your passions for basketball and football. When did you start following both sports and how did you end up becoming a fan of the Portland Trail Blazers and Everton?
I’ve been a football fan since I was very, very young, since I was four or five. Tennis and football were the two sports that I played growing up. I remember watching Australia in the 2006 World Cup when Tim Cahill scored all those goals and we got to the Round of 16 and unfortunately against Italy we had a little dive in the penalty box. I still remember that and I’ve been following football my whole life.
I’m an Everton fan because Tim Cahill was playing for Everton at the time. I wanted to find a team to support and he was my favourite player. I told him that myself and it’s great that we’re in touch because he was one of my idols growing up.
Basketball, I got into it when I was around 13. I was watching NBA 2K on YouTube and I liked it and I wanted to play the game, so I started understanding the game a little bit. It’s grown into my third favourite sport to watch. The Portland TrailBlazers, I’m not one of those glory-seekers to find a team that has been winning trophies so easily and have had the best team in the league. I was just trying to find my team and Damian Lillard popped up. He’s become my favourite player and they’ve become my favourite team. I think even if he leaves I’ll still support Portland.
Do you play either sport and, if so, have you played with any players on the ATP Tour?
I do play both sports. I love to play both, but I haven’t played with anybody on the ATP in any of the sports. But I must say, I’ve seen Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils and Thanasi Kokkinakis play basketball and they’re probably the best on Tour.
This is a milestone moment in your career. How will you celebrate this victory?
I’ll celebrate by hopping on a flight in three hours and flying back home to see my family. Maybe I’ll upgrade my ticket to business class, but that’s it.