Former Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships ball kid Alexei Popyrin came agonisingly close to fulfilling a lifelong dream of competing in the main draw of the ATP event at the Aviation Club but faltered in the final round of qualifying on Sunday.
On a day where rain interrupted play on the courts in Garhoud, the Australian teenager, who lived in the Emirates between 2009 and 2011 and was a ball boy during the 2009 Dubai tournament, squandered six break points in the opening set and blew a 5-3 lead in the tiebreak to lose 7-6 (5), 6-4 to French world No. 107 Quentin Halys.
The Sydney-born Popyrin, who currently lives in Marbella, won the French Open junior title last year. The 18-year-old is ranked No. 477 in the world and is considered a bright young prospect on the tour.
“It was a tough match but I thought I was in control mostly in the first set. I had six break points in the first set that I couldn’t convert. I’m not very happy with the way the match went but happy with the way I fought, the way I played,” said Popyrin after his match on Sunday.
“I think if the first set went my way it could’ve been a completely different story. Just have to take my chances next time.
“I feel like I can compete with these guys. I don’t feel like it’s a big deal for my game but it’s just mentally, I have to stay in the match focused a bit more. But that all comes with experience.”
Popyrin was given a wildcard into the qualifying rounds in Dubai both last year and this week. Making the transition from ball kid to actually playing at the ATP 500 event has been a highlight for him but he hopes to make it into the main tournament next time around.
“It felt amazing but I’m just disappointed I didn’t get the ‘W’ to play in the main draw. I was so close to making it. Next year maybe,” he said.
“I just bounce back. I do my stuff. Talk with my coach about the match, with my parents. Learn, the most important thing for me is to learn from my mistakes to keep going in my game, mentally keep going. I feel 100 per cent at home when I play in these big tournaments. It just comes with experience I think and age.”
Meanwhile, former top-10 player Ernests Gulbis booked himself a spot in the main draw by defeat Italian Stefano Travaglia 6-3, 6-2. He takes on No. 2 seed Lucas Pouille in the main draw.
MONDAY’S ORDER OF PLAY
Court 1 – 14:00 start
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) v Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ)
Robin Haase (NED) v Quentin Halys (FRA)
Denis Istomin (UZB)/Daniel Nestor (CAN) v Richard Gasquet (FRA)/Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA)
Henri Kontinen (FIN x1)/John Peers (AUS x1) v Damir Dzumhur (BIH)/Filip Krajinovic (SRB)
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