Kwon the Lion King of Nur-Sultan

26.09.2021    Views: 277
Source: KTF press-service
Alex Sharp 
Just one week ago Soon-woo Kwon was hunting down Davis Cup glory on American grass courts in Newport, Rhode Island.  
Matching his impressive mane-like hair, the South Korean headed to Kazakhstan and played with the heart of a lion to lift his first ever ATP title at the Astana Open. 
«I didn’t mean to look like one but I guess I did play like a lion,» said the 23-year-old with a smile, who is set to rise to a career-high world No.57 on Monday.  
«I kept my poker face all week. I wasn’t distracted at all. I focused on just my matches and I came up with some brave tennis.» 
Kwon dispatched three seeds Dusan Lajovic, Laslo Djere and then home charge Alexander Bublik en route to the final in Nur-Sultan, where he overcame Australian James Duckworth 7-6(6), 6-3 to fall to the court in celebration.  
«It’s my first ATP title, I can’t quite believe it but I’m really happy,» said Kwon. «I don’t know how I can express this properly. But I also want to thank my team, my coach and trainer, this is very special.»  
With such prestigious silverware on the line, Kwon made sure the occasion didn’t overawe him, building on the mental strength he displayed to guide South Korea to a 3-1 victory over New Zealand. 
«Last week I played Davis Cup in Newport. I flew all the way from there to here. it’s a 10-hour difference,» explained the world No.82. 
«I just came with an open mind, an open heart. I knew it would take time to adjust to the courts, so I wasn’t tight. From the first round I was relaxed and hit the ground running. Each match I was getting better and better, I stayed calm and played freely.»  
Kwon demonstrated his full repertoire, utilising the combination of a disguised drop shot then volleyed lob winner a few times to the delight of the crowd. 
The South Korean was the first to have an opportunity to snare a break of serve at 4-all, but he erred on a backhand when trying to return the Australian’s kicking second serve. 
The variety of the arsenal Kwon possesses stretched Duckworth. Be it the power of his first serve, or the deft touch of his drop shots, he was able to keep the Australian unbalanced in rallies. 
But the Australian, an ATP Challenger winner in Istanbul last week, was equally adept from the ground and also the net, with his aggressive approach often placing Kwon on the back foot. The 29-year-old illustrated his confidence, crunching a backhand return and sprinting to the net to win a quickfire volley duel. The even battle reached a first set tiebreaker as a result. 
The Australian swiftly moved to a 6-3 lead, but Kwon was able to save all three set points, the last one with a powerful return. Kwon urged the crowd to get involved having struck a blistering inside-out forehand and when Duckworth netted a backhand, the first set went to Kwon. 
Duckworth wasn’t going to let his nine-match winning streak snap without a fight, taking advantage of a loose service game to post an immediate break.  
However, his comeback hopes were dashed by Kwon’s relentless play. A selection of returns were on radar deep by the baseline to enable the 23-year-old to clinch a pivotal 4-2 lead. 
Kwon, calm and composed, just like his whole week in Nur-Sultan, served out the match in style.  
His triumphant week has convinced the 23-year-old he has the hunger and platform to now chase even more trophies at this level and beyond.  
«I was thinking before the match this could be my last chance to win an ATP trophy, you never know what is going to happen,» admitted Kwon, prevailing in his first ever ATP final. 
«I did what I can. Thanks to this tournament, I now have a lot of confidence and hopefully I can lift more trophies in the future. 
«After today, I can reach for something like the Top 20, after this week I have more belief that I can do this.» 
Kwon, the ninth first-time ATP titlist of 2021, has become just the second South Korean man in the Open Era to lift ATP silverware, following in the footsteps of compatriot Hyung-Taik Lee.  
«When I was starting tennis, he was an idol for me,» said Kwon, referring to the former world No.36 and 2003 Sydney champion. 
«I grew up watching him play. He has inspired a lot of people to take up and develop tennis in Korea. I hope I can too.»

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