Alexei Popyrin served notice of his potential with a come-from-behind three-sets victory in yesterday's final of the Singapore Open.
The unseeded Australian's 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 win over Kazakh fourth seed Alexander Bublik secured his first ATP singles title at his first attempt. He had upset 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic in two tiebreakers in the semi-finals at the OCBC Arena on Saturday.
Popyrin, 21, said: "I don't think it's a feeling I'll ever feel again. Maybe I'll get it if I win my first Grand Slam but this feeling is unbelievable.
"A lot of sacrifice, a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work went into this from myself, my team and my whole entire family. I have done it for everybody who was involved. I am just so proud that I could actually get it done."
After losing the first set, the world No. 114 dropped just two games thereafter as he upped his intensity while relying on his booming serve. He fired 11 aces for the match and won seven consecutive service games to love from 3-5 in the first set.
"The first set was a grind. I lost that because of sloppy errors and I knew I couldn't afford to do that against a quality player like him," said the 1.96m Popyrin. "I started picking up where he's going to serve and getting balls back in play a lot. At the same time, I also tried to play aggressive and it paid off."
He also paid tribute to his team and family and said the breakthrough was also for them, adding that he will now have fond memories of the Republic.
The former junior French Open champion is expected to rise to a new career-high ranking of No. 82 when the standings are released today.
But the Australian ace said that he is not focused on the "live rankings".
He added: "There's still lots of hard work to be done. It's a good start to the year for me and hopefully I can build on this result and have a good year."
Popyrin earned US$24,770 (S$33,017) for his win.
For the 46th-ranked Bublik, this is his fourth consecutive ATP finals loss and he said "it's starting to hurt" but drew positives from his performance during the week.
"Alexei played enormous tennis and he was the better player today. But I'm going on.
"There's the entire season in front of us so it's a lot of positives.
"It is what it is, you lost the final, it's fine, you've got to move on, life doesn't stop."
Belgian top seeds Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen won the doubles title after a comfortable 6-2, 6-3 victory over Australian pair Matthew Ebden and John-Patrick Smith. The pair have won four other ATP doubles titles together.
The Singapore Open is the first top-level men's tournament here since the 1999 Heineken Open and the first international tennis event here since the WTA Finals in 2018.
Initially held behind closed doors, 250 fans were allowed each day into the OCBC Arena over the weekend. They had to take the antigen rapid test that returned negative before being allowed entry.
Popyrin said having a live audience "made a huge difference" and thanked them for their support, adding: "I don't think I would be here without you."
There were no positive Covid-19 cases, among staff including more than 200 overseas players and officials, reported during the week-long Singapore Open.
In more good news for local sports, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong last night said the new Kallang Tennis Centre will be ready by the end of next year. It will include first-class facilities to host future tennis events, and community-oriented features with common spaces for the public, he added.