Player Features

Popyrin On The Prowl: The Luckiest Loser In Cincinnati

Australian trying to reach first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final
August 17, 2023
Alexei Popyrin poses for a photo with Roulette of the Cincinnati Animal Care Shelter & Resource Centre on Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open.
Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Alexei Popyrin poses for a photo with Roulette of the Cincinnati Animal Care Shelter & Resource Centre on Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open. By Andrew Eichenholz

Alexei Popyrin was sitting on the couch Tuesday morning inside the players’ lounge at the Lindner Family Tennis Centre in Cincinnati. Just shy of 11 a.m, the Australian’s phone rang. It was an ATP Tour manager, who was just a 10-second walk away.

“I was on the couch, literally switched on the PS5 to play FIFA with my physio, because we have a lot of FIFA battles,” Popyrin told “I got the call from the ATP Tour managers telling me that I have to be on court in five minutes. And I had just come into the centre literally 10 minutes before that.”

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At 10:54 a.m., Karen Khachanov withdrew from the tournament. The first lucky loser, Daniel Altmaier, had already replaced Khachanov’s scheduled opponent, Andy Murray. Popyrin took Khachanov’s place in the draw and was given a brief period to physically warm up before heading out to the court.

Just two days earlier, Popyrin had lost in the final round of qualifying at the Western & Southern Open to countryman Max Purcell, who is also still in the tournament. Popyrin defeated Altmaier 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 to advance to the second round.

“It's kind of something you don't have every day. So I think if anything, it gave me less pressure because I didn't have any expectations on myself, because I knew I didn't do everything possible to be ready for this match because I didn't know I was going to play,” Popyrin said. “So kind of had less expectations of myself, and I was relaxed when I came out there. In the first set, I told myself, 'Even if I lose it, it's kind of your warmup for the match.'”

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Popyrin’s next scheduled opponent, Nicolas Jarry, withdrew from the tournament to rush home for the birth of his child. From out of qualifying, Popyrin was suddenly into the third round of the main draw and $88,805 richer. He is now at a career-high No. 47 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

“Just before we left our house, I told my coach, 'Today's going to be a long day, because we might have to stay here for a long time.' And we were prepared for that,” Popyrin said. “We weren't too excited getting into the car, because we knew it was going to be a very long day. But turns out it was quite a short day. We were in and out and played our match and we were back in the house by by 3 p.m.”

It has been a memorable stretch for the 24-year-old. In the last week of July, he triumphed in Umag for his second ATP Tour title. The Aussie battled past former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka for the trophy in a match he called “a dream come true”.

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“It feels good. I think when you do all the right things, then good things will happen to you eventually. And for me, I know for the past year, I've been doing everything the right way. I've been working the right way, I've been eating the right way, working out the right way,” Popyrin said. “When you do things the right way, good things eventually come to you. And that's what happened in Umag.

“I won my second title and then here, my first hard-court event since March, I'm in the third round of a Masters [1000] because of some lucky events. But also I put myself in the situation to be in those positions. So for me, that's how I look at these things.”

Now Popyrin has a big opportunity to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final against World No. 60 Emil Ruusuvuori. But he is not thinking too far ahead.

“I think it's like any other tournament. You prepare for the matches the way you always do, and that's it,” Popyrin said. “I do have work left to be done. I didn't think that two days ago, but I do now and it's an easy mental shift because we're so used to doing it.”

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