WATCH: In over two-and-a-half hours, Aussie Alexei Popyrin outlasted Stan Wawrinka in Umag to win his second career ATP title.


The old saying might go, 'Never meet your heroes,' but that adage couldn't have rang less true for Aussie Alexei Popyrin on championship Sunday at the Plava Laguna Croatia Open.

The 23-year-old Aussie outlasted Stan Wawrinka in the singles final 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 in Umag to win his second career title, and afterwards, lauded the Swiss as a "legend" of tennis in a winner's speech that came from the heart.

"For me to play a final against you, it's an honor," Popyrin, who's 15 years Wawrinka's junior, said. "I grew up rooting for you, and I rooted for you in every single Grand Slam final that you played.

"Honestly man, I love you and I love the love that you have for the sport."

The Swiss, in turn, had kind words for Popyrin in his runner's up speech.

"You’re doing a great job. You’re young, playing super well. You deserved to win tonight," Wawrinka said. "Amazing week. Keep going. Keep pushing."

Moved to tears returning to the championship match in Umag, the site of his first career title in 2006, Wawrinka also thanked the fans for spurring him on to his first final in four years.

“I know it’s so stupid to cry, but I love this sport so much," he said. "You make it really special. Amazing week. Hopefully I can come back. Thank you for the support. Thank you for being here. Hopefully I see you next year.”


In addition to Wawrinka on the opposite side of the net, Popyrin also overcame a leg injury over the course of the two hour, 36-minute final. Over the last two days of the tournament, he played nearly seven hours of tennis; to reach the final, he beat Italy Matteo Arnaldi in a three hour, 16-minute semifinal.

“My quad was done at 2-1. I felt it cramp, I felt it strain. I think it’s pulled, but I managed to dig deep," Popyrin said. "I don’t know how I won it, honestly. I honestly don’t know.

“I even told the physio when he came out. He said, ‘If you go any more then it will be tough’. I said, ‘There’s no point in quitting now, I’m here in the final. If I lose, I lose. If I retire, I lose anyway. So I have a better chance of winning if I stay in’, so that’s what I decided to do.”