Unlike the rest of the tennis world, which is slowly opening up, Rotterdam took its on-court Covid restrictions to the extreme this past week. There were no fans or line judges on site, and each player was allowed just one person in his player box. There weren’t even any seats visible in the arena. The result was a black box where the players went toe to toe in eerie silence.

All of which made it the perfect venue for Andrey Rublev, and for those of us who like to watch and listen to him. You could hear his fast feet squeaking ruthlessly into position for his next shot. You could hear the thump of the strings meeting the ball on his full-blooded forehand. You could hear the brusque grunt that accompanied each of his many ground stroke winners. This was tennis stripped to its brutal essentials, which is just how Rublev likes it.

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Weekend Winners—Rublev rolls in Rotterdam; Tauson keeps rising in Lyon

Weekend Winners—Rublev rolls in Rotterdam; Tauson keeps rising in Lyon

Rublev rolled through the Rotterdam draw, winning 10 of 11 sets. (Getty Images)

There’s something else that Rublev liked about Rotterdam: It’s an ATP 500 event. The Russian has now won four straight titles and 20 straight matches at that level. He has also won his last seven finals, six of them in straight sets. The 23-year-old kept that streak going with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Marton Fucsovics on Sunday.

The first set was decided by just a shot or two, but by the middle of the second Fucsovics was staggering a little, like a boxer who has taken one too many shots to the ribs. That’s how a lot of players look after they have a go-round with the pugilistic Rublev.

This was a solid, stabilizing week for Rublev. After fading physically against Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open quarterfinals, Rublev rebounded in Rotterdam, beating another rival, Stefanos Tsitsipas, in the semifinals, and to run his 2021 record to 13-1. The next question is: Now that he’s established his dominance at 500s, can he get his first win at a Masters 1000 tournament, or reach his first semifinal at a Slam? We’ve seen other players, most notably Kei Nishikori, fail to make a similar leap. But it seems inevitable that Rublev, at 23, with so much drive and desire, will get to the next level sooner rather than later.

Championship Point:

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Rublev has reached the quarterfinals at the last three majors, where he has lost to Medvedev twice and Tsitsipas once. Both of those players have a little more variety in their games, a second or third option they can go to over the course of a best-of-five-set match. Where Rublev pounds the ball at one speed, Medvedev changes paces on his ground strokes. Where Rublev drives the ball and hugs the baseline, Tsitsipas mixes spins and attacks the net regularly.

Rublev will likely never be a player with lots of options. He does one thing—hammer the ball—and he does it very well. But at a crucial stage of his match against Fucsovics on Sunday, with the score 3-3 in the first-set tiebreaker, Rublev did try something different, and it worked. Fucsovics hit a hard ball into his backhand, but instead of trying to hit an even harder ball back, Rublev came under it, dropped it short and low, and forced Fucsovics to hit up on a difficult forehand. Fucsovics sent the next ball long, and Rublev never trailed again.

Rublev, the King of the 500, doesn’t need to change his game to win more at bigger events. He just needs to keep playing them.

Weekend Winners—Rublev rolls in Rotterdam; Tauson keeps rising in Lyon

Weekend Winners—Rublev rolls in Rotterdam; Tauson keeps rising in Lyon

Clara Tauson burst onto the scene at Roland Garros last fall, qualifying for the main draw and upsetting Jennifer Brady in her opener. She could be an even bigger factor this year. (Getty Images)

When Clara Tauson clinched her 6-4, 6-1 win over Viktoria Golubic in the Lyon final on Sunday, she stood still, turned to her player box, and smiled. Then she walked to the net to shake hands.

You might not have known from her reaction that Tauson, in what may be an all-time record for efficiency, had won her first WTA title in just her eighth main-draw match. But this seems to be Tauson’s style.

Judging by her week in Lyon, the 18-year-old is not a big emoter, a big fist-pumper, or a big screamer. She moves slowly and steadily from one point to the next, waits for the ball to come her, and smacks it as hard as she can. Then she moves onto the next point.

Tauson was likely surprised, but not shocked, by how quickly this title came for her. She has been on the rising-star radar for a while now. She won the Australian Open girls’ title two years ago, and knocked out Jen Brady in the first round at the French Open last year, 9-7 in the third set. While the pandemic may have delayed her ascent to the WTA level, Tauson has won two ITF events in 2021. Counting the last one, and her two qualifying rounds in Lyon, she’s on a 12-match win streak. This week she beat top seed Ekaterina Alexandrova and Camila Giorgi, and didn’t drop a set.

Championship Point:

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Unlike the last great WTA Dane, Caroline Wozniacki, Tauson has an attacker’s mindset.

“I like to come in the court and finish at net if I have the opportunity,” she told wtatennis.com in Lyon. “I would like to be the kind of player who serves really well, plays big shots—like [Petra] Kvitova (who won a title of her own on Saturday). She’s not afraid to hit the ball. I really think I can be that type of player.”

Tauson has the physical tools to do it. She’s 6’0” and has a live arm. She likes pace, and her driving forehand and backhand were too powerful for everyone she faced this week. At first, I wondered about her speed and athleticism, but I wondered a little less after watching her hit a tweener to stay in a rally against Golubic, and then win the point with a running forehand.

We’ll find out soon enough how her defensive skills are, but her semifinal run in the Roland Garros juniors a couple of years ago makes it seem as if she’s comfortable on clay. Perhaps most impressive in Lyon were her hands. In the semis, Tauson made a quick adjustment after a net-cord and hit a volley winner, and won another point with a precisely measured defensive lob.

“I love playing the good players,” Tauson said. “That’s where I want to be.”

If she can make it this far in eight main-draw matches, it shouldn’t take her long to get there.

Weekend Winners—Rublev rolls in Rotterdam; Tauson keeps rising in Lyon

Weekend Winners—Rublev rolls in Rotterdam; Tauson keeps rising in Lyon