The coronavirus pandemic could not have come at a worse time for Russia’s Andrey Rublev. The 22-year-old had made a superb start to the year, building on the gains he made during an impressive 2019 campaign. Picking up a career-high 38 wins and winning the title in Moscow, Rublev finished the year ranked 23rd in the world. His triumph in Moscow was surely particularly sweet, as he beat Adrian Mannarino in the final on his 22nd birthday.
That followed a quarterfinal showing in Cincinnati where he beat the great Roger Federer 6-3 6-4 in the third round in just 54 minutes. The Swiss had no answer for Rublev’s aggressive groundstrokes, succumbing to his quickest loss since he was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Franco Squillari in 2003 in Sydney. Rublev also reached the third round in Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai, where he defeated 2019 runner-up Borna Coric, as well as making the last 16 at the US Open, having upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in four sets in the first round.
Rublev certainly looks to be a player with a bright future, with several statement wins already under his belt. Indeed, the future for Russian tennis looks strong, with Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, the champion in Cincinnati and Shanghai, also currently ranked inside the top 25. That makes them the first trio of Russian’s to be ranked inside the top 25 since Nikolay Davydenko, Dmitry Tursunov and Igor Andreev in July 2009.
That strength in depth saw Rublev miss out on a spot in the Russian team for the inaugural ATP Cup. But if that was a disappointment for the 22-year-old, he did not let it affect his tennis. He started his year by winning the Qatar Open, beating the French qualifier Corentin Moutet in the final and he backed that up by winning his second-straight title in Adelaide, dismissing South Africa’s Lloyd Harris 6-3 6-0 in the final.
That made him the first man since Dominik Hrbaty in 2004 to secure back-to-back titles in the first two weeks of the season. And he continued that fine form at the first Major of the year in Melbourne, beating Australian wild card Christopher O’Connell, Yuichi Sugita of Japan and the 11th seeded Belgian David Goffin to reach the second week. There, however, he rather lost his way, losing to eventual semifinalist Alexander Zverev in straight-sets, 4-6 4-6 4-6.
As a result of his efforts at the start of the season, Rublev broke into first the top 20, on January 13th, and then the top 15, on February 3rd, supplanting Khachanov as the Russian #2 in the process. That made the trio the first three Russian’s to simultaneously hold top 20 rankings since Marat Safin, Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny in 2005. And Rublev maintained his solid form in the final weeks before the ATP Tour was suspended.
In his first tournament since the Australian Open, Rublev reached the quarterfinals at the Rotterdam Open, beating Nikoloz Basilashvili and Alexander Bublik before losing to Filip Krajinovic in straight-sets. He avenged that defeat two weeks later in Dubai, beating Krajinovic 7-6 6-0 in the second round. However he again fell short in the quarterfinals, losing 2-6 6-7 to Great Britain’s Dan Evans, which he may well regard as a chance squandered.
Nonetheless, Rublev’s form over the first two months of the 2020 season suggests that sooner rather than later the Russian will break into the top ten. He can inject formidable pace into both his forehand and backhand, whilst his serve and physicality have also improved notably. Unforced errors remain his Achilles’ heel, but when Rublev is on song, he is almost unplayable. His rise up the rankings looks set to continue and perhaps one day he could even claim the #1 ranking.
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