17 years after his first title victory on the ATP Tour, the Swiss veteran had a chance to win his first title in six years in his first final since 2019. But his Australian opponent just proved to be better, despite fighting cramps during the match.
With the match swaying towards Wawrinka's favour in the humid Croatian clay court, Popyrin pulled off a remarkable 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 victory, despite suffering a crippling cramp that marred his performance in the deciding set.
The match meant a lot for both protagonists. Wawrinka was really teary during the trophy ceremony, while his Australian opponent was left speechless, not knowing how he was able to win the match.
"All tournament I’ve been fighting battles that I don’t know how I won. This one tops it all. 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. 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."
Popyrin's victory is especially poignant given his admiration for his opponent. The Australian showed incredible respect for Wawrinka, admitting that he grew up watching his matches against the world's best.
"It’s an unbelievable honour to play somebody like Stan in a final. I grew up watching him, Roger, Rafa, Novak play. To play him in a final and beat him in a final, words can’t describe how happy I am. It’s an unbelievable feeling."