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Advanced Edition: Can Andrey Rublev hit the jackpot at the Australian Open?
The No. 5 seed is into his seventh Grand Slam quarterfinal; can he break the duck against nine-time champion Novak Djokovic under the lights? After narrowly escaping Holger Rune, Rublev has never felt luckier.
Published Jan 25, 2023
WATCH: Rublev pulled off a veritable Houdini act in the fourth round against Rune; can he do the same against Djokovic?
Playing his seventh career Grand Slam quarterfinal, Andrey Rublev is in familiar territory even if the stage has proven far from comfortable in his previous six efforts.
“In the beginning, I was not ready because the other players were much better than me, the players like Rafa,” he said of his 2017 US Open breakthrough. “I was teenager, no physical-wise, nothing.
“The other times that I had chances was mental part. I couldn't handle it. That's it.”
Though a looming encounter with nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is a hardly more comfortable prospect, the 25-year-old may feel like luck is finally on his side after a thrilling victory over Holger Rune in the fourth round.
“Now I can go casino,” he joked after saving match points and trailing the Danish teenager 0-5 in the final-set tiebreak “If I put, for sure I going to win.”
Back at the roulette wheel, can the No. 5 seed hit the jackpot in Melbourne? Here’s why he will —and what’s still to watch out for:
Now I can go casino. If I put, for sure I going to win. Andrey Rublev
Rublev enjoyed a remarkably solid run to the second week. Dropping just one set in his second round against Emil Ruusuvori, he played emphatic tennis to defeat both 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem and No. 25 seed Dan Evans, who had beaten him in their most recent meeting last summer.
Still, by most metrics, the charmingly mercurial Muscovite shouldn’t still be in the tournament —certainly not if Rune had anything to say about it.
After leading in their Round of 16 clash by two sets to one, Rublev found himself down 2-5 in the final set, two match points down ad 5-6, and down in the 10-point tiebreaker until 3-7. From there, he reeled off six straight points to earn a pair of match points; Rune saved both, but a lucky netcord sealed his fate on a third shortly thereafter.
What was Rublev’s strategy as the match reached its climax? Just keep it close.
“Like inside I was thinking it's over,” he admitted after the match. “Like, I was down. I was just telling to myself, ‘At least please don't do the same like in Roland Garros when I completely give up when was 7-2 or something.’ I finished the tiebreak 10-2.
“I said, ‘Here at least win more than two points. If you have to chance to win three, win three. If you have the chance to win four, win four.’
“In the end somehow in the end little by little I win two. Then it becomes 7-6 and my serve. I make almost ace, ace, and was 8-7 somehow. Then everything was different.”
Different can make all the difference when you’re 0-6 in Grand Slam quarterfinals. Rublev channeled his sometimes-frustrating fatalism into competitive energy and it took him to one of the best comebacks of his career.
Could he do the same against Djokovic? He won their lone outdoor meeting last spring in Belgrade, when Djokovic was still shaking off the rust of missing much of the first quarter of 2022. The No. 4 seed has picked up plenty of steam since then, but is still ostensibly nursing a hamstring injury he picked up in the lead up to Melbourne Park—though he seemed back to his best against Alex de Minaur in a much quicker fourth round.
Rublev may need some of that same reverse psychology against Djokovic that worked so well against Rune.
“I was thinking it's over,” he said. “[Rune is] playing much better than me. He deserves to win. He going for the shots. He's doing something that normally I supposed to do if I want to win the match. I let it go.
“Somehow the stress that I had, I was able by thinking this way I was able to relieve. At the end of the match I played much better than during all the match.”
What To Watch Out For
Novak Djokovic, end of list.
No, seriously: if Rublev is ever going to be the kind of player who lifts Grand Slam trophies, this is the kind of match he will need to start winning—or at least make very close.
“I know that Novak is very tough player to beat, especially on the slams,” marveled Rublev. “He has, I don't know, best experience to win these kinds of matches. He's one of the best in history.
“The only chance I have is if I play my best tennis, just fight for every ball, and that's it. That's the only chance.”
Even then, it may not be enough, but it’s a start.