Dubai: Former Dubai ball kid Alexei Popyrin was left ruing the missed chances after nearly living his dream of entering the main draw of this week’s Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open.
The 18-year-old Popyrin, who brushed aside Marcel Granollers in their first round match on Saturday, went down 6-7, 4-6 to Frenchman Quentin Halys to narrowly fall short of a main round entry.
A UAE resident for a couple of years, Popyrin was a ball kid with younger brother Anthony at the 2009 Dubai Tennis Championships. Since then he had been dreaming of returning to Dubai and playing on centre court. Part of this dream was fulfilled last year when Tournament Director Salah Tahlak gave the teenager a wild card for the qualifiers last year where he lost in the first round to Denis Istomin.
His experience of playing on the big stage paid dividends later in the season as Popyrin went on to claim the boy’s junior title at the 2017 French Open.This year, the Sydney-born lad took the next step while being just one match away from making it into the main draw of the ATP-500 event.
“Granollers was a big win for me and my confidence for this tournament where I grew up watching all the big players here. Since then I have dreamt of one day playing here. I didn’t qualify last year and this year I was so so close that I am even more disappointed,” Popyrin told media after his rain-delayed match on Court 2 finally concluded at 6 pm.
“The first set was decisive. He didn’t have a single chance to break but I had six and I was always in control, and yet I didn’t make use of all this. Had I won the first set, then the outcome could have been totally different. It is truly disappointing for me, but I will learn from my mistakes and go on,” he added.
The Dubai boy will head back to Mallorca along with mum Elena and then start preparing for a couple of Challengers to be held close to his residence there. “The idea is to draw all the positives from an experience like this and return next year even stronger so that I can achieve my dream,” Popyrin said.
Making a main round entry on debut was Germany’s Yannick Maden with a fluent 6-1, 6-1 win over India’s former world number one junior Yuki Bhambri and Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis who got the better of Stefano Travaglia 6-3, 6-2.
Earlier in the day, the rains came as forecast and play was suspended for the first time at 12.30 pm with Popyrin on serve trailing Halys 3-4, while Maden was 4-1 up against Bhambri. Play commenced just after 3 pm only to be stopped yet again due to a second drizzle. Finally, ATP supervisor Gerry Armstrong announced that play would only commence at 5 pm.
“Nothing disturbed me out there,” Maden said of the long weather interruption.
“My goal was to keep things simple and the reward is a first ever entry into an ATP-500 tournament. I am totally pleased with what I have achieved in the past two days,” the German added.
Catch the match
Men’s qualifiers at the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open: Yannick Maden bt Yuki Bhambri 6-1, 6-1; Quentin Halys bt Alexei Popyrin 7-6 (5), 6-4; Ernests Gulbis bt Stefano Travaglia 6-3, 6-2; Gleb Sakharov bt Blaz Kavcic 6-3, 6-4.
(Doubles qualifying final round) Jan-Lennard Struff/Viktor Troicki bt Andreas Haider-Maurer/Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4.
Order of Play (Monday)
Centre Court (Start at 2 pm) Gleb Sakharov vs Philipp Kohlschreiber; (Not before 4 pm) Roberto Bautista Agut vs Florian Mayer; (Not before 7 pm) Marcos Baghdatis vs Viktor Troicki; Yoshihito Nishioka vs Benoit Paire.
Court 1 (Start at 2 pm) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Mikhail Kukushkin; Robin Haase vs Quentin Halys; Denis Istomin/Daniel Nestor vs Richard Gasquet/Pierre-Hughes Herbert; Henri Kontinen/John Peers vs Damir Dzumhur/Filip Krajinovic.