Tennis: Wild card Ebden shocks second seed in ATP S'pore Open

Matthew Ebden will face Alexei Popyrin in the quarter-finals on Feb 26, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - After reaching a career-high of world No. 39 in October 2018, Australian tennis player Matthew Ebden was gunning for more breakthroughs in the following season.

But injuries then derailed his campaign, which ended prematurely after he took a few months to recover from a foot injury. The 33-year-old never got a chance to get back on track, as the Covid-19 pandemic threw his plans into disarray as he saw his ranking dip to world No. 316.

Now fit and ready for action, he returned to competitive tennis at the Great Ocean Road Open in Melbourne in February, before competing in the Australian Open in the same month, when he and mixed doubles partner Samantha Stosur finished runners-up.

The Australian was handed a wildcard to play in the Feb 22-28 Singapore Tennis Open and he made it count on Thursday (Feb 25) by upsetting second seed and compatriot John Millman 6-4, 6-1 in their round-of-16 match at the OCBC Arena.

"I expected a tough match, he's had a good last few years, so I knew I had to play well," he said. "I played a really good match in terms of putting it on my racket and pulling a lot of the points in my favour."

With the win, Ebden, who converted four of six break points to knock world No. 39 Millian out of the ATP 250 tournament, took his head-to-head record with Millman to 6-2.

He will face yet another countryman Alexei Popyrin in Friday's quarter-finals.

Unlike Millman, top seed Adrian Mannarino booked his place in the top eight after defeating Italy's world No. 191 Roberto Marcora 6-3, 7-5.

But the world No. 35 Frenchman was made to work hard for his win, as he needed some time to adjust to the court conditions in his first match at the Singapore Open aftre getting a bye into the second round.

Mannarino, 32, said: "It's never easy to start a tournament and I didn't have the chance to warm-up or practise on the centre court. The lights and the speed of the court is a little bit different, so I needed to get used to it. The start of the match was not that great, but I was able to be consistent when the big punches were coming."

Moldova's Radu Albot, the competition's sixth seed, also secured his spot in the quarter-finals against Mannarino after a gruelling match against Germany's Yannick Hanfmann that lasted two hours and 42 minutes.

World No. 76 Albot eventually beat Hanfmann, ranked 105th in the world, 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (9-7) and 6-3.

The other quarter-final match-ups will pit fourth seed Alexander Bublik against fifth seeded Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka, while 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic will face eighth seed Kwon Soon-woo after the South Korean defeated Japan's Yasutaka Uchiyama 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday.

In the doubles on Friday, Belgian pair Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen will come up against British duo Luke Bambridge and Dominic Inglot in the semi-finals, while United States' Robert Galloway and Alex Lawson will face Australia's Ebden and John-Patrick Smith in the quarter-finals to earn a spot in the top four.

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