Not everyone shares a common story with tennis legend Roger Federer.
Alexei Popyrin is one of the few who has not just one but two things in common with the Swiss maestro.
Federer has brought the climax to tennis size, while the Australian is in 86th placeth in the world. But his legendary journey began in the same way.
Both started as ball kids in Basel and Dubai, respectively. Both of them are known to spend a lot of time in the city of the Middle East.
However, Popyrin has a deeper connection.
The ambitious 21-year-old, born to Russian parents, was relocated to Dubai at the age of eight due to his father’s work commitments.
From early training to meeting his significant other, the UAE brings back a flood of memories.
Recalling his past, Popyrin says, “I remember going to school and completing my education online. That’s a nice memory that I have and another one played the local tournaments for Fujairah, Sharjah and Dubai.
“As with all children, I would change clothes and have food in the car while I was traveling to training and tournaments.”
Popyrin’s return to the Dubai Tennis Stadium was a moving experience after starting his journey as a ball boy for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Tournament director Salah Tahlak was only too happy to offer him a wild card for this year’s tournament and praised the 21-year-old: “It is a great pleasure for us to welcome Alexei Popyrin back to Dubai as champion.
“He has come a very long way since he first hit the pitch as a ball kid and he fully deserves the wild card he received this week. We look forward to seeing how well he does in the years to come. “
It wasn’t his physical and emotional attachment to Dubai that earned him a wild card for this year’s Dubai Championships. He put his skills and fighting skills to the test at the recent Australian Open, where he fought an exciting fight with the youngest Montpellier champion and number five at this year’s tournament, David Goffin.
The match lasted three hours and 43 minutes, and Popyrin fought four match points to advance to the next round.
Commenting on his progress, Popyrin said: “This game was proof that the hard work I put in preseason is paying off. David Goffin is certainly one of the best players on tour and beating players of his quality is a confidence boost and I think that continued in Singapore. “
The 21-year-old had a dream week at the Singapore Tennis Open as he recovered from a 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 loss to Alexander Bublik to take his first ATP Tour title and a dominant service performance scored the week.
In Singapore, Popyrin scored another significant win against former US Open champion and Australian Open and Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic.
“We have followed Alexei Popyrin’s recent results with interest and it is clear that he has a successful career ahead of him,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty-Free. “We were delighted to see him back at the stadium, where it can be said that he started his career in sport, and we wish him all the best for the future.”
Having had a remarkable year, Popyrin didn’t have the smoothest rides against fellow countryman Dennis Novak on Sunday, eventually winning 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 over two highly competitive sets.
“I came out to train on the pitch and I remembered that the center court is much bigger than it is,” Popyrin said ahead of his opening game against Dennis Novak. “It’s probably because I was very, very small and much smaller.
“It’s a beautiful center court and I remember just being part of a group with the ball boys and having my friends there. I remember having lunch and dinner in the back where the ball boys used to be.
“And the smells. The smell is very similar and they bring back the pictures of me as a ball kid. “
Being in the presence of tennis kings may have been an intimidating experience for a young child, but that was not the case with Alexei, who made the most of his privileged position.
Popyrin hadn’t been aware of their humble beginnings together in the game, as Federer, standing in the back of the pitch, retrieved the ball and handed the players the towel. A future similar to the past would suit him well.
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