“I don’t know how I won” Popyrin overcomes cramps to win Croatia Open

Alexei Popyrin has overcome both Stan Wawrinka and quad cramps to lift the Croatia Open trophy on Sunday

Alexei Popyrin

Alexei Popyrin has become the first Australian since Lleyton Hewitt to win a clay court tournament on the ATP Tour, defeating Stan Wawrinka 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Croatia Open in Umag on Sunday evening.

The match was a topsy-turvy affair, with Popyrin yet again failing to hold on to early breaks. When the Australian began cramping at 2-2 in the third set, it seemed three-time Grand Slam champion Wawrinka would cruise to victory.

“My quad was done. But I managed to dig deep,” said Popyrin after his victory. “I don’t know how I won it honestly.”

Groundhog Day for Popyrin at Croatia Open

For the second day in a row, Alexei Popyrin found himself up a break in the first set, only to come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard at the end of the set.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Popyrin was unable to close out the opening set, with the set eventually going to a tiebreaker instead. At one point it looked as though the 23-year-old would clinch the breaker, having roared back from 5-3 with a brutal forehand winner. Wawrinka stayed composed when it mattered most, however, claiming the tiebreaker 7-5.

To his credit, Popyrin yet again showed excellent mental strength to bounce back in the second set, claiming a straight forward 6-3 set.

After breaking early in the third, Popyrin seemed to be riding his second set momentum through to the title, until the toll of his four previous matches became apparent in a quad issue.

“[My quad] was done at two all. I felt it cramp, I felt it strain, I think it’s pulled,” explained Popyrin after the match.

With Popyrin visibly limping and battling a leg that would seize up, the match momentum swung drastically in favour of Stan Wawrinka.

Excellent serving, big-hitting and a tenacious attitude saw Popyrin across the line however, with the 23-year-old lifting his second ATP trophy.

Generations collide as emotional Wawrinka hopes to return

After the match, it was an emotional time for both Alexei Popyrin and Stan Wawrinka.

“It’s an unbelievable honour to play somebody like Stan in the final,” said Popyrin. “I grew up watching him, Roger, Rafa and Novak play. And to play him in a final, and beat him in a final, honestly, words can’t describe how happy I am. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Popyrin continued, explaining the significance of this win:

“For me it just dedicates everything that I sacrificed.

“Leaving my home country of Australia, my parents did that for me, to learn how to play on clay. For me to win my second ATP title on a clay court, with my parents in the crowd for the first time is unbelievable, and honestly I’m so happy.”

A tearful Wawrinka shared on what the final, his first in almost four years, meant to him:

“I won my first title here, a long, long time ago, always some great memories to come back.

“I know it’s so stupid to cry, but I love this sport so much, and you make it really special. Really hopeful I can come back, and thank you for the support throughout the week. Hopefully I see you next year.”

Fingers crossed the 38-year-old can stay healthy, and fulfil his promise to the Croatian crowd.

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