Popyrin back in business with Dubai win

Alexei Popyrin has won his first match since lifting his maiden ATP title at the Singapore Open, beating Austrian Dennis Novak at the Dubai Championships.

ALEXEI POPYRIN of Australia.
ALEXEI POPYRIN of Australia. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Alexei Popyrin has returned to winning action after his breakthrough triumph at the Singapore Open, defeating Austrian Dennis Novak in his opening match of the Dubai Championships.

The 21-year-old Australian Popyrin, who's enjoying a remarkable year and has shot up to a career-best no.82 in the world, did not have the smoothest of rides against fellow wildcard Novak on Sunday, eventually winning 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 over two hard-fought sets.

The Sydney youngster showed his familiar fighting spirit in the opening stanza when, immediately after the Austrian had broken him to serve for the set at 6-5, he hit back immediately to level affairs before reeling off three straight points to settle the tiebreak.

In the second set, the big-serving Popyrin, who hammered down 10 aces, then cracked Novak in the Austrian's final two service games to run out winner in an hour and 36 minutes.

The victory sets him up with a difficult second round encounter against Karen Khachanov, the Russian who was beaten by his Australian compatriot Matt Ebden in Marseille last week.

Sydney's world No.122 Chris O'Connell completed a fine weekend's work, battling into the main draw after winning his qualifier against Turkey's Cem Ilkel 6-4 6-3 on Saturday and then beating Italy's Thomas Fabbiano 6-2 6-4 on Sunday.

His reward will be a first round tie in the main draw with another qualifier, South African Lloyd Harris.

Other Australians in action in Dubai will be the country's top two players, Alex de Minaur and John Millman, while Ebden, who ended up suffering an injury after reaching the semi-final in Marseille, is fit to compete but will be grateful of a first round bye.

He may not be so happy with a second round tie against Roberto Bautista Agut, the world No.13.

Kei Nishikori came back from a set down on Sunday to beat Reilly Opelka 3-6 6-3 6-4 to set up a standout second-round match with David Goffin.

It will be another significant test for Nishikori, who's trying to rebuild his form after the coronavirus pandemic and elbow surgery which restricted him to only four tournaments in 2020.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was locked at 3-3 in the first set with Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri when the 35-year-old French favourite was forced to retire - his latest setback after an injury-hit 2020.

Surprise Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev reached the second round with a 6-4 6-4 win over Egor Gerasimov after recovering from 2-0 down in the second set.