Popyrin fires Australia into 1-0 lead over Finland in Davis Cup semis

Australia’s Alexei Popyrin outclassed Otto Virtanen 7-6(5) 6-2 to hand the 28-times Davis Cup champion a 1-0 lead over Finland in their semifinal on Friday.

World number 171 Virtanen served with venom and let rip a blistering array of groundstrokes in a tight first set but came unstuck towards the end, as Popyrin saved a set point before pouncing in the tiebreak.

Popyrin, a late replacement at the Finals for the injured Thanasi Kokkinakis, grabbed the first break of the match in the second set when Virtanen hit two successive double faults as last year’s runners-up Australia sensed an opportunity.

The 40th-ranked Popyrin held firm to close out the win and silence a huge crowd of boisterous Finnish supporters who had made the nearby town of Fuengirola their home.

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Finland is the only country left in Malaga to have never won a Davis Cup trophy after the Netherlands lost to Italy on Thursday and it faces an uphill task to make its first final in the elite men’s team competition.

Australian number one Alex de Minaur can settle the tie when he meets Emil Ruusuvuori, who recovered from a shoulder problem that kept him out of Finland’s giant-killing win over champion Canada in the quarterfinals.

The doubles pair of Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell secured Australia’s progress against the Czech Republic and could be called upon to deliver again if the tie goes into a deciding clash against Harri Heliovaara and Patrik Niklas-Salminen.

The winner of the tie will take on Serbia or Italy, who will face off in the second semifinal on Saturday.

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