Tennis: World No. 114 Popyrin upsets third seed Cilic at S'pore Open to reach first ATP final

Alexei Popyrin (above) pulled off a shock 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-2) win over 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic.
Alexei Popyrin (above) pulled off a shock 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-2) win over 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Tennis fans in Singapore returned to their first international event since the WTA Finals in 2018 and were treated to thrilling action at the Singapore Tennis Open on Saturday (Feb 27).

Up to 250 fans will also be allowed into the OCBC Arena for the final on Sunday, that will see a first-time ATP champion being crowned.

In the first singles match on Saturday, Australian world No. 114 Alexei Popyrin pulled off a shock 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-2) win over 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic to reach his first ATP final.

Popyrin, 21, will meet Kazakh fourth seed Alexander Bublik, who reached his fourth ATP final after coming from behind to beat Moldovan sixth seed Radu Albot 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the second semi-final.

World No. 44 Cilic broke Popyrin's serve and went 4-1 up early in the first set but Popyrin kept his cool and served 15 aces to Cilic's nine to win the two tiebreakers in two hours.

"It feels amazing, I've sacrificed a lot and I've worked so hard my whole life to be in an ATP final and now that I'm finally in one, it feels amazing. All the sacrifices my family and I made are paying off finally," said the 2017 French Open junior singles champion, whose family moved to Dubai when he was a child and later Spain.

"There's one more match I want to focus on and its pretty much complete, the sacrifices would have paid off. This is only one tournament, there are 30 others to play this year and I want to try to get as high as possible in the ranking but it's definitely a good start to the year."

He added that having fans in the stadium shouting "Go Popy" was extra motivation for him and said it felt as though the stands were full although only 250 spectators were allowed.

Spectators arrived as early as 10am for registration and to take the Antigen Rapid Test, which had to return negative before they were allowed into the venue.

Each party, with a maximum of four people, was spaced at least two seats apart and alternate rows were used.

Indian national Anita Chavan said the process of taking the test and receiving her results was a smooth one that took less than 15 minutes.

After taking her test at the OCBC Square, she received her results on the way to the OCBC Arena, a short walk away.


Singapore Tennis Open spectators taking the antigen rapid test at OCBC Arena, on Feb 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH


Singapore Tennis Open spectators waiting to take the antigen rapid test at OCBC Arena, on Feb 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON

"There was a nice distance between the spectators and it was nice to have a tennis event in Singapore again after the WTA Finals left," said Chavan, who works in IT and attended the season-ender in 2018 before it moved to Shenzhen.

Homemaker Elaine Teh said attending the ATP 250 event gave her the confidence to attend more live events, should more resume in the future.

"The organisers did a really good job and took the necessary precautions for this and it shows that more events can resume safely in Singapore," she said.


Spectators at the Singapore Tennis Open match between Marin Cilic and Alexei Popyrin on Feb 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH


Up to 250 fans will also be allowed into the OCBC Arena for the final on Sunday (Feb 28). ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

But while Popyrin enjoyed the cheering from a live audience, he was missing the one person who is usually with him at tournaments - his mother.

"This is the first tournament in a long time she's not been with me and now that I've made it to the final, I kind of wish she was here to experience that with me because she's put in so much hard work for me behind the scenes," he said.

"It's not just me who's in it, it's not just my achievement, it's my whole family's because they were around the whole time.

"It's definitely added motivation. I put everything out there for my family. I want them to be proud of me at the end of the day and I think they are."