Bublik Entertains But Ruud Advances At Madrid

Casper Ruud (photo: @atptour/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 7, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The Friday night session quarterfinal matches at the Mutua Madrid Open in the Spanish capital city had a tough act to follow, after World No. 2 and top seed Rafael Nadal was upset in straight sets by No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev and No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem withstood the high velocity of John Isner‘s first serve to reach his first semifinal of the 2021 season.

However, what the third and fourth quarterfinals may have lacked in drama, they made up for in entertainment value. After all, any match that has Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik playing in it is bound to leave everyone laughing and smiling. Right?

There were plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from the socially-distant crowd that filled between 30-40 percent of capacity at La Caja Mágica watching the Bublik-Casper Ruud and Matteo-BerrettiniCristian Garin quarterfinal matches that decided the remainder of the men’s singles semifinals lineup for Saturday.

While the 44th-ranked Bublik did his best to entertain the Spanish fans, being the first from his country to reach the quarterfinals of an ATP Masters 1000, it was No. 22 Ruud of Norway who played steady and smart and easily won 7-5, 6-1 in 69 minutes.

Ruud won 76 percent of his first-serve points, hit 19 winners and made just four unforced errors, while Bublik finished with 23 winners and committed 21 unforced errors. The Norwegian outpointed Bublik 68-47 with two-thirds of his points coming from rallies that were five shots or less.

Neither had played a main draw match in Madrid before this week and yet, Ruud, who continues to play some of the best tennis of his life, reached his fourth straight clay-court semifinal – and third straight Masters 1000 semifinal following up on his last four finishes in Monte-Carlo last month and at the French Open last fall. His quarterfinal win came just a day after Ruud knocked World No. 5 and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas out of the tournament, 7-6 (4), 6-4 for his first career Top Five triumph. As for Bublik, he did pull out everything from his enjoyable repertoire: underarm serves, a tweener, drop shots – and definitely kept things lively.

In comparing the contrasting styles of Tsitsipas and Bublik, Ruud told Tennis TourTalk: “Two very different players but they can both produce extremely good winners and winners from anywhere on the court. Bublik, obviously, played different from Stefanos.

“Stefanos plays with more spin while Bublik just rips the serve and rips the groundstrokes as much as he can. And he throws in the underarm serve. He did a good one today; luckily I was able to win the point. I don’t like losing points to an underarm serve. I was a bit lucky with a volley after I ran up for the underarm serve. I was quite fortunate with some let-cords and he even threw a tweener at me that I was able to win. So, I’m happy with the performance and it’s a nice feeling to win the points when you know they have a flashy shot. Maybe, it doesn’t work as well on the clay.”

With Ruud’s one-sided victory over Bublik, the Norwegian has now reached 11 ATP Tour semifinals – all on clay.

“It’s a great feeling, it’s my third Masters 1000 semifinal, third in a row on clay,” Ruud said during an on-court interview after his victory. “I’m just playing the tennis of my life for the moment and I’m enjoying it.”

Berrettini aces his way into semifinal against Ruud

Meanwhile, the World No. 10 Berrettini, who has quietly and efficiently started his season 15-3 and won his fourth ATP Tour singles title earlier this year at the Serbia Open after leading Italy to the ATP Cup final, rallied from down a set and 1-3 in the second set to win the final 11 games of his quarterfinal match against No. 25 Garin to advance against Ruud.

The Italian’s 13th ace set up match point and his 14th perfect, unreturnable serve rewarded him a satisfying 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 win over the 16th-seeded Garin in two hours and seven minutes for his seventh straight victory.

The Chilean came into Friday night’s match with nine wins on clay and looking to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal and eighth Tour semifinal overall – all on clay. He left the court looking exasperated by what happened.

“Every match is a fight,” the eighth seed Berrettini said earlier this week. “I’m really putting a lot of effort to be able to be mentally ready. …

“Obviously, I came here with a lot of confidence. I wasn’t expecting like, ‘Okay, I have to make the quarters, semis, whatever.’ I play match after match. Now, I have quarterfinal in front of me. It’s going to be a really tough match. Cristian is playing well. I’m confident. I’m playing good. I’m enjoying the fight. I’m ready to fight.”

Fight is what the 25-year-old Rome native brought to Manolo Santana Stadium with him for the final quarterfinal match. In addition to firing 14 aces, Berrettini won 78 percent (43 of 55) of his first-serve points and backed it with a 48-percent efficiency on second-serve points. Although he was broken three times, Berrettini kept the pressure on Garin and broke him six times in 14 attempts, including three times in the final set. He outpointed his opponent 95-77.

During his post-match virtual press conference, Tennis TourTalk asked Berrettini what he’s been most proud of during his journey to the Madrid semifinals. He responded: “I’m really proud that I came from not an easy place mentally after my injury.

“I really worked hard. There were days where I wasn’t really feeling into practice because I felt like kind of there was a lot of work to be done. Sometimes I was feeling kind of unlucky that I got injured again. It was just tough.

“But then I came back stronger in Belgrade. For here, I proved to myself that I’m strong inside.”

The Final Four in Madrid

Men’s doubles semifinals, women’s doubles final set

The men’s doubles semifinals and women’s doubles finals are set following Friday’s action on the outer courts at La Caja Mágica.

On the men’s side, the No. 2 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, remain in contention as does the No. 3 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina.

As for the women, the final will take place on Saturday afternoon between No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, against No. 3 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands.

Saturday’s order of play