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Controlling emotions "in the right way", Andrey Rublev eyes career breakthrough against Frances Tiafoe
Before the US Open, the Russian slumped out of the ATP Tour’s Top 10 after a disappointing stretch of early exits. Now, he's a match win away from his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Published Sep 07, 2022
WATCH: In this special edition of No Limit NYC: A Prakash Worldwide Series, Prakash Armritraj goes behind the scenes at The Citi Taste of Tennis—and takes some shots with Andrey Rublev
NEW YORK—Coming into the US Open, a place in a Grand Slam semifinal seemed like a longshot for No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev.
A week before the tournament, the Russian had slumped out of the ATP Tour’s Top 10 after a disappointing stretch of early exits, and had arrived in Flushing Meadows out of form and looking for something—anything—to kickstart his season again.
The US Open, where he had previously reached two of his five career Grand Slam quarterfinals, has given him that and more. Across four rounds in Flushing Meadows, Rublev has rediscovered his best tennis, and proven doubters, oddsmakers and pundits alike all wrong in the process.
“The difference this tournament, [is] that I was able to keep myself better, I was able to keep my emotions in the right way,” Rublev told press after his fourth-round victory, a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over the red-hot No. 7 seed Cameron Norrie.
It’s been a theme throughout the fortnight for Rublev, who has gained a reputation on the ATP Tour as a bit of a hothead with a short fuse.
If a break-point opportunity came and went unconverted, the “old” Rublev would have smashed a racquet in response—possibly on himself, in order to avoid a code violation from the umpire. If a putaway forehand resulted in an unforced error, Rublev could often be found ranting to his player box or berating himself, setting off a snowball effect that would often see him lose a perfectly winnable match.
The “new” Rublev, however, has been a lot more sanguine during his journey in New York.
Immediately drawn into a five-set battle against Laslo Djere in the first round, Rublev’s Grand Slam almost ended before it began at the hands of the 64th-ranked Serbian. Rublev survived, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, but the experience seemed to serve as a wakeup call.
“After the first round, five sets, almost losing control many times emotionally, I was thinking it’s gonna be really really tough,” he said after his 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 second-round win over Kwon Soon-woo. “I was thinking that if I'm not gonna finally step up and take myself under control, then it will be impossible to win [again] like this, after the first round.
“I thought, like, ‘Not today.’ I don't know. I looked at my team... One of them said 'It's okay' and I was like it's true. It's okay.”
Like a bleeding Arya Stark, fending off the God of Death in Game of Thrones, Rublev has been fulfilling his own destiny in New York—winning the matches he is supposed to win, outgunning opponents with his heavy-hitting firepower, and reaching his second Grand Slam quarterfinal of the year as a result.
Five sets against the equally emotional Denis Shapovalov, against a partisan crowd on Grandstand? Rublev, doing his best Bjorn Borg impression, simply gripped his racquet, kept eye contact with his coaching team, and got the job done in the third round, 6-4, 2-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (10-7). In the fourth round, against the higher-seeded Norrie, Rublev recorded his most stone-cold performance of the tournament, weathering multiple rain delays on Louis Armstrong Stadium to close it out in straight sets.
Could this fortnight prove to be the turnaround that the 24-year-old has been searching for? In a season that saw him miss out on Wimbledon due to the All England Club’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players, Rublev has also lifted three ATP Tour trophies—highlighted by the 500-level Dubai in February. Respectable, sure, but far from his own high standards and expectations.
All the while, opponents have been picking apart his one-dimensional game, finding ways to neutralize his big forehand and pushing, pushing, pushing him—until the inevitable implosion finally comes. Only this week, it hasn’t.
But the biggest test of all for Rublev, and his newfound mental fortitude, will take the form of a familiar foe in the quarterfinals: ‘Big Foe’, in fact. Frances Tiafoe, the No. 22 seed, completed a career victory in the fourth round with his 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 stunner over Rafael Nadal.
Of course, there’s a chance that Tiafoe, fresh off his massive upset on Arthur Ashe Stadium, could be emotionally spent after the intense battle against Nadal.
Rublev, who has already ensured himself a return to the ATP Tour’s Top 10 as a result of his US Open run, will be seeking his first ever Grand Slam semifinal on Wednesday against Tiafoe.
But Rublev has been down this road before: a year ago at the US Open, he allowed himself to be caught up in the drama and the fireworks in his first meeting against Tiafoe. That 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 third-round defeat to the American—one of the most memorable matches of last year’s tournament—was still rattling around Rublev’s mind ahead of their upcoming matchup.
“I lost to him last year here at the US Open,” Rublev recalled. “For sure he will try to use the energy [of] the crowd to be more pumped, to play better tennis.
“With him, I just need to wait for my moment and use it.”