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The methods to his madness paying off for Alexander Bublik in 2021
On Thursday morning, in a shadow-filled side court at the Mutua Madrid Open, Bublik made fairly routine work of one of the ATP’s hottest players—Aslan Karatsev—6-4, 6-3.
Published May 06, 2021
Have you missed the Nick Kyrgios show this spring? The underhand serves, the tweeners, the flashy racquet skills, the anything-goes shot selection, the tennis player who says he hates tennis?
If so, you’ve been in luck, because as Kyrgios has temporarily exited the stage, his 23-year-old understudy in eccentricity, Alexander Bublik, has crept closer to the spotlight. The Kazakh is 19-11 in 2021, a significant improvement on his .500 career winning percentage. He reached his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal in Miami, and now he’s into another in Madrid. Earlier in the week, Bublik edged 11th-seeded Denis Shapovalov in three sets. On Thursday morning, in a shadow-filled side court, he made fairly routine work of one of the ATP’s hottest players, Aslan Karatsev, 6-4, 6-3.
This was, relatively speaking, a straightforward affair for Bublik. He tried a few side-spinning drop shots, and dropped a deft half-volley an inch in front of the net. But mostly he served. He hit 14 aces, won 79 percent of his first-serve points, and bombed his second serve almost as hard as his first. Worse for Karatsev, Bublik kept finding the lines with his serve when he was down break point. He faced eight of them, and saved seven.
When it was over, Bublik raised his arms and smiled with what seemed like a little bit of disbelief. His 19th win is a career high for a season for him, and we’re only in May. Outside of Miami, he had never won a match at a Masters event before. A year ago, in an echo of Kyrgios, Bublik told L’Equipe that he “hates tennis,” only plays it for the money, and would happily retire if he didn’t need to earn a living.
But Bublik doesn’t come across as displeased with his lot in life, just honest about the ups and downs that come with any job. He doesn’t seem to feel any pressure to be a Grand Slam champion or the game’s next superstar.
“The more Masters quarters, the more prize money you get,” he said in Miami. “So it’s nice, no? Why not? Maybe next time I make another result. Yeah, I’m pretty happy and pretty confident about my game. I just try and head in the right direction, do the right stuff and enjoy life.”
Asked whether he would join Novak Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil’s nascent player’s association, the PTPA, Bublik said no, he was OK with the ATP, imperfect as it may be.
“I’m not a good politico, or I’m not trying to go against it because I believe that before we were making good money,” Bublik said. “[In 2019] I played 12 events, I made like 900,000. I mean that’s kind of OK, you know.”
Bublik continued his free-spirited ways off the court today as well. In a Tennis Channel interview, he said that if he ran the ATP, he’d hold every tournament in Newport—not coincidentally, he made the final there in 2019—and that an around-the-netpost shot he made in doubles this week was the “best shot in doubles eternity.”
In truth, Bublik does something jaw-dropping with his racquet virtually every time he plays. Like any good 6’6” ace machine, he doesn’t give his opponents any rhythm; but unlike most bomb servers, he can disrupt play in a dozen other ways. His game is a compilation of unorthodox new-school innovations. He has the underhand serve, he has the SABR, he has the drop shot from either side, he has the chop forehand. He won one point against Karatsev today with a backhand drop and a lob volley.
“You never know,” Bublik repeated in a recent interview, about what’s next for him. It’s a pretty fair description of his game, and his entertainment value. But he also says there’s a method to his madness. If he tries to rally too much, he says, he’ll start to push, and that’s not his game. If he thinks there’s a 50-50 shot that a big second serve will win him a point, he’ll take it.
Like Kyrgios, Bublik will probably never be a guy you can count on to go deep every week. But when he is playing well, any fan will want to tune in to see his show. What will we get from him in the quarters in Madrid? “You never know,” he might say, and that’s not a bad thing.