Bublik’s Best Season Just Keeps Getting Better

Alexander Bublik (photo: Hall of Fame Open/Facebook)

NEWPORT, R.I./WASHINGTON, July 16, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Alexander Bublik likes to entertain as much as he does playing serious tennis. The personable, 24-year-old, who was born in Gatchina, Russia, but represents the former Soviet republic Kazakhstan in competition, enjoys mixing things up on the tennis court with a variety of slice backhands while occasionally surprising his opponents with an underarm serve. His philosophy is simple: do anything to keep things loose on the court and to put smiles on appreciative tennis fans – win or lose.

However, when Bublik puts his mind to it – and lately he has – he’s also got a very potent first serve that’s both reliable and able to consistently win points. Winning more points than his opponents has translated into victories and each win moves him a step closer to bigger rewards. Soon, Bublik will be off to Tokyo representing Kazakhstan in his first Olympic Games, which is a pretty big reward. First, though, is the business of trying to win an ATP singles title on grass because, as Bublik figures it, he enjoys playing tennis more than practicing it.

On a sunny, Thursday afternoon in Newport, a city known for its Gilded Age mansions and yacht-filled harbor, the top-seeded Bublik advanced to the semifinal round of the ATP 250 Hall of Fame Open with a 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal victory over 163rd-ranked Jason Jung of Taiwan. Bublik’s 14 service aces and 84 percent first-serve efficiency, coupled with three breaks of Jung’s serve, added up to a satisfying victory on grass at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, in the only U.S. grass-court tournament on the ATP Tour calendar.

“There are a lot of positives: staying confident throughout the entire match, and staying focused against such a tricky opponent. He runs around a lot and plays very solid,” Bublik said after his quarterfinal victory against Jung. “I tried to keep my nerves together and served well, which definitely helps.”

In a tournament that’s been characterized by early-round upsets of the top seeds in the week following Wimbledon – only No. 1 Bublik, No. 7 Jordan Thompson and No. 8 Kevin Anderson reached the quarterfinal round – Bublik has stayed out of trouble throughout much of his first two matches. He’s shown he’s a big fan of grass because of what he says are the “low bounces and short rallies.”

The 37th-ranked Bublik, who reached his first tour-level final two years ago in Newport, has looked comfortable and relaxed as the No. 1 seed during both of his Stadium Court matches. First, he out-aced Ivo Karlovic, 22-21, in their first career meeting during his second-round victory on Wednesday against the wild card from Croatia. Then, his serve proved too much for Jung to handle in Thursday’s quarterfinal triumph. A day earlier, Jung earned his first ATP Tour-level win since reaching the semifinals of the 2020 New York Open with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 5 seed Tennys Sandgren from the United States.

After beating the 210th-ranked Karlovic, Bublik admitted in press: “You’ve got to treat the players carefully because everyone can play good tennis, and No. 1, No. 2 or No. 52 seed won’t give you any benefit on court.”

The 24-year-old Bublik is enjoying his best pro season, with a 26-17 win-loss record, which includes a couple of runner-up finishes in Antalya and Singapore. He also reached the quarterfinals of ATP Masters 1000 events in Miami and Madrid. Earlier this month, he garnered a personal-best third-round finish at Wimbledon (losing to semifinalist Hubert Hurkacz). His current ranking is a career best and represents quite an improvement over his No. 83 the last time he played in Newport two years ago. Also, Bublik is No. 1 on tour with 452 aces, and fifth with a per match average of 12.2 aces.

Bublik was asked during an on-court interview after his win against Jung what has been the biggest difference in his game since his last Newport appearance in 2019. “The pandemic really helped,” he answered in a mater-of-fact tone. “In my opinion, it was one of the best times in my life. I became a better person – a different person – [the time away] helped me. I’ve been more consistent with my routines, with my tennis, with my lifestyle.

“I rethought everything. I had a lot of time. I enjoyed time seeing my family. I felt like tennis wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do. I stopped really looking at tennis as something incredibly big and important for my life.

“[Tennis] has been a great way to entertain myself for 15 years, make some money, enjoy life, doing what I can do best, and being true to myself.”

Around the Hall of Fame Open

• In Thursday’s second quarterfinal match, No. 8 seed Kevin Anderson from South Africa, playing in his second quarterfinal of 2021, hit 20 aces and won 88 percent (42 of 48) of his first-serve points en route to defeating 231st-ranked American wild card Jack Sock, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4, in two hours and 35 minutes to advance against No. 1 seed Alexander Bublik on Saturday. Anderson outpointed Sock 108-84.

The victory for the 113th-ranked Anderson, a former World No. 5, was an important one because he’s on the cusp of gaining a direct entry into next month’s US Open in New York.

“I was up against a really, really good player. I know Jack has had a couple of tough years, but his level is way, way above his ranking,” Anderson said during an on-court interview after his victory. “If you look at his previous results, I had to really dig deep.

“It was a very physical match; the conditions were much warmer today. There was some adjusting to do. I thought I did a really good job of fighting for every point and figuring out a way to come through at the end. …

“A positive mentality counts for a lot. I strive my best to do that every time and if I do, things will work out.”

Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Sock was appearing in his first quarterfinal since the ATP Masters 1000 at Paris in 2018. Earlier this week, Sock strung together wins over Australian qualifier Alex Bolt, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, and No. 3 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, 6-2, 6-3. So, overall, his game seems headed in the right direction. He’s also still alive in doubles with fellow American William Blumberg.

• The remaining two quarterfinals are on Friday’s order of play. The first one features 152nd-ranked American Jenson Brooksby, appearing in his first ATP Tour-level quarterfinal, against No. 131 Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, followed by No. 7 seed Jordan Thompson of Australia against No. 155 Maxime Cressy of the United States. On Wednesday, Cressy upset No. 2 seed Sam Querrey for his biggest win of his career. The UCLA graduate is appearing in just his third tour-level main draw.