Former Dubai ball kid back for a slice of tennis glory

Alexei Popyrin, who spent two years in Dubai, is back in a new avatar as an aspiring player on the men's ATP Tour

by

Leslie Wilson Jr

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Dan Evans and Alexei Popyrin pose with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy. — Dubai Duty Free Tennis
Dan Evans and Alexei Popyrin pose with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy. — Dubai Duty Free Tennis

Published: Sat 25 Feb 2023, 6:03 PM

Last updated: Mon 27 Feb 2023, 12:41 PM

He was born in Sydney, Australia, speaks English, Russian and Spanish and is a huge fan of English Premier League Club Everton FC.

He was also a former ball kid at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Meet Alexei Popyrin, who spent two years in Dubai when his father was here on a posting, but is back in a new avatar as an aspiring player on the men’s ATP Tour.

The 23-year-old giant of a man (he’s 6ft 5 inches tall) says he just can’t wait to go out on court and enjoy the allure of the Dubai Tennis Stadium, which holds so many wonderful memories.

“For me, it has always been a dream to play her,” said Popyrin, whose parents are originally from Russia.

“Luckily this is my second wild card here and I want to thank the organisers for supporting me through tough times and giving me this opportunity to prove myself and to show that I belong here and am capable of performing at this level.”

As a ball kid, Popyrin threw balls at several Grand Slam winners on the Dubai Centre Court.

“Hopefully if I get a chance to play on Centre Court it will bring back memories of my days as a ball kid. I have a lot of fond recollections of Dubai,” he said.

While acknowledging that he was drawn in the top half of the 32-player draw, Popyrin was not going to allow himself to worry about what might be.

“The top half of the draw is tough, with Novak (Djokovic) but there is no easy draw here. Every player here can play tennis, this is an ATP 500 event, so it’s a very tough tour. I’m going to take it one match at a time and just focus on myself.”

Popyrin brings strong form to Dubai having reached the quarterfinals of a Challenge event in Bahrain earlier this month. Before that, he reached the third round of the Australian Open where he lost to Adelaide-based Greek player Thanasi Kokkinakis.

He remains optimistic and upbeat about what his goals are for Dubai and the rest of the year.

“I don’t want to get too confident, but I’m happy with my game this year,” he said. “I just want to keep my head down, keep working as much as I can and keep trying to perform the way I have been performing this year.

“The tennis will take care of itself.”

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