Popyrin loses
Alexei Popyrin has been beaten in the semi-final of the Qatar Open in Doha by Karen Khachanov. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • tennis

Popyrin’s Qatar Open bid ended after marathon tiebreak

Ian Chadband February 24, 2024

Alexei Popyrin’s bid to reach his first ATP final of the year has been sunk by Russian Karen Khachanov, who went on to knock out the Australian in the Qatar Open semis after prevailing in a dramatic 26-point first-set tiebreak.

Popyrin, competing in his first semi-final since winning his second career title in Croatia last July, looked in the driving seat for much of the opening set at Doha’s Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex but eventually succumbed in the breaker before going down 7-6 (14-12) 6-2.

It set up a final for Khachanov against the week’s sensation, Czech 18-year-old Jakub Mensik, who beat French veteran Gael Monfils, 19 years his senior, 6-4 1-6 6-3 to become the youngest finalist in the tournament’s history.

The centrepiece of the first absorbing semi on Friday had been a terrific battle in the breaker in which Popyrin held three set points and No.2 seed Khachanov had five of his own before finally prevailing after a 65-minute stanza.

After the Russian had fought back from 4-2 down in the opening set to level up and then set up the tiebreak, things had initially looked forlorn for Popyrin as he quickly went 4-0 down.

But Popyrin fought back magnificently, even saving the set with a daring second serve that caught the line, but there proved one gamble too many when he also chalked up a double fault to give Khachanov the fourth of his set points.

Again, the Australian responded by going back on the attack to save the day again, but Khachanov, such a tough competitor, delivered typical aggression of his own when he finally forced Popyrin, on the retreat on his own serve, to hit low into the net and surrender the set on the 26th point. 

It was always going to be a long way back for the 24-year-old after that crushing blow and there was almost a sense of inevitability about the world No.17 taking control with a break in the third and seventh games of the second set as he went on to win in just over an hour and three-quarters.

“It was a very emotional and tight tie-break. He was up and then I was up,” said Khachanov. “One point made the difference – and I think winning the first set was crucial to winning the match.”

Defeat means world No.46 Popyrin will stay as No.3 in the new Australian men’s rankings when released next week, still behind Jordan Thompson and No.1 Alex de Minaur, but he’ll potentially also be enjoying a new career-high position in the top 40.

Later, Mensik wrote another chapter in his amazing breakthrough week after having previously beaten Andy Murray and Andrey Rublev as he became the youngest ATP finalist since Carlos Alcaraz in 2021. 

“It is amazing. Hopefully not the last one. Incredible week so far,” Mensik said. 

“I have to say this performance was one of the best in my entire life. I am so glad I reached this level in the semis, so hopefully tomorrow I play like this. An amazing feeling with my first ATP final. I am speechless.”