Rublev The Great Rules Over St. Petersburg Open Crown

Andrey Rublev (photo: St. Petersburg Open)

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Andrey Rublev stormed to his fourth ATP Tour title of the year – tying him for the lead with Novak Djokovic – after winning the ATP 500 St. Petersburg Open Sunday afternoon in Russia’s former imperial capital city that was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703.

In capturing his sixth career ATP Tour crown, Rublev gave himself the perfect birthday gift in what has been a remarkable year.

The World No. 10 Rublev from Russia, who turns 23 on Tuesday, won with powerful, punishing ground-stroke returns. He punctuated championship point of his 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over 27th-ranked Borna Coric of Croatia by collapsing to the Sibur Arena hardcourt surface – exhausted but proud – and promptly buried his head in his arms for several moments while soaking in the applause of the small socially-distanced but appreciative audience.

With Sunday’s victory, Rublev extended his winning streak in Russia to 10 matches after having won the VTB Kremlin Cup trophy in Moscow last year. He’s also an outstanding 19-4 since the relaunch of the ATP Tour – 34-7 overall – and his St. Petersburg crown is his second straight ATP 500 title triumph of the season to go along with his Hamburg Open accomplishment last month. His world ranking will rise to a career high No. 8 when the new ATP Rankings are updated on Monday.

“I am proud and I am happy with the way I am performing,” Rublev said after his title win. “I try not to think about it. I try to focus on the things I still need to improve, because there are so many things I can improve and I have to improve if I want to be at the same level or better.”

The third-seeded Rublev came into the St. Petersburg Open final against No. 7 seed Coric on a mission. Not only had the Moscow native never lost to Coric in three previous head-to-head meetings, but he had never lost a set to the Croatian. After winning the one hour and 39-minute final, his record against Coric remains perfect – and the victory is his 14th in his last 15 matches going back to the beginning of Hamburg.

Rublev, who finished with seven service aces and just one double fault, won 80 percent (49 of 61) of his service points and did not face a break point the entire match. He outpointed Coric 74-63.

The intensity of the final seemed to change during the first-set tie break. After Coric jumped ahead 5-2, Rublev went to work and strung together five straight points to pull it out and won the first set, Then, he broke Coric in the fifth game of the second set to lead 3-2. It was just the margin that Rublev needed to be able to race to the finish line. He lost just three points on serve in his final three service games and put away the title match on his first championship point opportunity with a demonstrative, driving volley that Coric was unable to successfully return.

“On Friday, I lost my grandmother, so … it was really tough,” Rublev said. “I am happy that this is the way I finished the tournament and it is a really special tournament for me.”

Coric gave props to his rival and friend. “Unbelievable job, Andrey. I’ve been watching your tennis for the last couple of months and [while] I don’t like losing, if I have to lose, I would like to lose to you,” he said during the trophy ceremony. “I’ve been coming back to this tournament for the last 4-5 years for a reason. I feel like at home. 

“When I go back home, I can train even more; I can train harder. Next year, I will come back for sure and hopefully I can win a trophy here.”

Rublev improves Nitto ATP Finals chances

By lifting the St. Petersburg Open trophy and collecting 500 points, Rublev is now the leader to become the seventh player in the Battle For London to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals. He is 249 points ahead of ninth-place Diego Schwartzman (3,180), who occupies the final qualifying position, and 354 points ahead of 10th-place Matteo Berrettini (3,075), who will drop 200 points from his total on November 9 due to his round-robin win at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals.

“I know I have a really good chance to qualify, but still it is not 100 percent yet,” Rublev said. “This year, I didn’t expect that I would have a chance. So, in the end, nothing is going to change for me. Even if I don’t make it, the season was really good for me anyway. If I make it, it is really good news. [It is] one chance to compete against the best players, to do my best.”

Melzer/Roger-Vasselin win doubles title

No. 2 seeds Jurgen Melzer of Austria and Edouard Roger-Vasselin from France won the doubles title with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over unseeded Marcelo Demonliner from Brazil and Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands. It is their first ATP Tour title. Sunday’s final lasted one hour and 19 minutes.

Melzer and Roger-Vasselin debuted as a team eight years ago in Winston-Salem and have compiled a 17-12 lifetime win-loss record. They are 15-10 this season and the St. Petersburg Open represented their first ATP Tour final together after rallying from a set down to win in a match tie-break in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. Earlier this season, they reached the semifinals at both Dubai and Rome.

“We had a talk exactly this week last year and we decided to try to play the 2020 season,” Melzer said. “I’m happy that with four tournaments left, we still have a chance to go to London. That was our goal when we started the year and it’s still possible. So, I’m very happy about that.”

Roger-Vasselin gave big credit to the Austrian-French team’s communication. “When we started together, we both knew we were good players,” he said. “We know each other very well on the court. We know what’s going to work, what’s not going to work. So, this is why we know exactly what is the best for us to perform.”

Around the St. Petersburg Open

With Andrey Rublev’s title victory, he became the fifth Russian player to win the St. Petersburg Open championship, following Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1995, Marat Safin in 2000 and 2001, Mikhail Youzhny in 2004 and Daniil Medvedev last year.