Rublev Proving His Top-10 Ranking Is No Fluke

WASHINGTON, October 13, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

When No. 3 seed Andrey Rublev entered Sibur Arena for his first-round match in the ATP 500 St. Petersburg Open Tuesday evening against 79th-ranked Canadian Vasek Pospisil, he brought with him 29 match victories, second-most on the ATP Tour behind Novak Djokovic.

The No. 3 seed Rublev, 22, is newly ranked in the Top 10 at No. 10. He’s enjoyed a breakout season that began before the five-month coronavirus lockdown of the pro tennis tours and has continued since the restart in August. The Moscow resident has won three titles (Doha, Adelaide and Hamburg) and reached the quarterfinals at both the US Open and French Open. Whether all of the tennis he’s played of late has caught up to him is debatable.

At least for this evening, Rublev was the superior player as reflected in his 6-2, 6-4 victory. He dominated Pospisil throughout their one hour and 18-minute Centre Court match. After breaking Pospisil’s serve for the fourth time to go ahead 4-3 in the second set, it was a matter of time before the Russian closed out matters for his 30th match win. Rublev’s second service ace on his second match-point opportunity finished Pospisil. Rublev is on to the second round on Thursday against either 286th-ranked Russian qualifier Pavel Kotov or No 38 Ugo Humbert of France for a place in the quarterfinals.

Rublev was asked earlier this week during a Media Day interview how he’s approached adapting to competing on a hard-court surface, such as St. Petersburg, after playing on clay in Rome, Hamburg and Paris. He said: “For me, it depends more on the first match. Even if I have three days to adapt, and then I win the first match, it will be easier for me to continue playing. … I will get into the rhythm; I feel the match emotions. After that, it becomes easier to switch to another surface.”

When he was asked about the challenge of adapting to living in a “bubble” such as what he encountered with the US Open and French Open, Rublev said: “It’s especially tough to play without fans, but we have no choice. This is part of our sport. In any case, it is better to play like this than complain and don’t play at all. 

“All organizers do their best to run tournaments in the most comfortable conditions possible. So, the least we can do is play and not complain. But even before the coronavirus pandemic, you didn’t get much time to go anywhere once the tournament began. You try to eat the hotel and get back to your room to save up your emotions and energy. So, it’s not a big difference between situations before the pandemic and after the pandemic when we speak about the tournament periods. But at the stadium, the atmosphere is a far cry from what it used to be. It feels complete different when there are no fans at the stadium.”

Regarding his new status as a Top 10 player, Rublev said: “I’m happy, of course. But it was not about Top 10. If you are 11 or 12 or 10, it’s the same thing. I think the main goal for me [is to test] if my level is really Top 10; if I can stay there, if I can be there, if I can improve more. 

“It’s one thing to be there for one week or two weeks. It’s another thing to deserve to be there. For the moment, I don’t feel that I deserve to be there, but I will do my best to be able to compete, to be a better player and to improve more and more and more. I hope I will be there because I deserve it.”

Seeds advance to second round

In other first-round matches on Tuesday: Russia’s No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov beat No. 93 James Duckworth of Australia 6-4, 6-4, by outpointing his opponent 64-49; No. 6 and 2015 champion Milos Raonic of Canada defeated 123rd-ranked qualifier JJ Wolf from the United States, 7-6 (5), 6-1, in back of 21 service aces. The 21st-ranked Raonic will face Alexander Bublik in the second round on Thursday.

Also, No. 7 Borna Coric of Croatia, ranked 27th, advanced over No. 60 Feliciano Lopez from Spain, 6-3, 7-6 (2), losing just nine points on his serve; 41st-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic from Serbia took out No. 88 Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 7-6 (7), by saving three set points in the second set; and 141st-ranked qualifier Ilya Ivashka of Belarus upset No. 39 Adrian Mannarino of France, 6-3, 7-6 (6).

Profile: Aslan Karatsev

On Monday, 117th-ranked Russian wild card Aslan Karatsev upset No. 48 Tennys Sandgren of the United States, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, to reach the second round against No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov. It was just the second career ATP Tour main draw win for the 27-year-old Karatsev, who has been a fixture on the Challenger Tour where he won back-to-back titles this summer in Prague and Ostrava in the Czech Republic. His overall win-loss record in all competitions this year is an impressive 28-7.

Through overcoming injuries, which have affected his world ranking, Karatsev is honing in on a goal of his, reaching the Top 100. “It was a long way to get the position I am holding now,” he said Monday after beating Sandgren. “There were injuries, there ups and downs in my rankings. Since I was 18, I have been aiming to reach this goal. And now, everything works well for me and I am finally about to reach the Top 100.”

Karatsev strung together eight straight wins that began with three before the pandemic hiatus in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan and ended with a straight-set loss to Stan Wawrinka in the final at the first Prague Challenger. Then, he won 11 consecutive matches that culminated in his title wins in the Prague 2 and Ostrava Challenger tournaments. Unfortunately, that clay-court success didn’t translate into reaching the main draw at Roland Garros. He lost in the final round of qualifying to Sebastian Korda of the United States.

For the past two years, Karatsev has been training in Minsk, Belarus, working with coach Egor Yatsuk. “It is the most comfortable place for me,” he said. “The city is nice and all the conditions as well. I have my coach there with me and we have [a] good relationship. I’ve known him for ages.”

St. Petersburg Open notes 

Highlighting Wednesday’s day session is No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, ranked 12th, who faces 197th-ranked lucky loser Viktor Troicki of Serbia. The evening session features No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, ranked sixth, against No. 53 Richard Gasquet from France, followed by No. 5 seed Stan Wawrinka from Switzerland, ranked 18th, versus 121st-ranked wild card Evgeny Donskoy of Russia.