It’s unclear whether Andrey Rublev’s opening-match dud on Sunday against Rafael Nadal was a simple case of first-time ATP Finals jitters, or just a bad matchup against the Spaniard’s sharp, crosscourt lefty forehand. Nadal can find Rublev’s backhand more easily than most players, and Rublev’s discomfort on court was apparent from start to finish.
What is clear, is that the Russian will need to serve better if he’s to give himself a fighting chance to qualify for the semifinal round. He made just 41 percent of first serves in his opening set against Nadal, and while he improved that figure as the match went on, he failed to win a single point on his second serve in the second set.
“In general I was serving not good at all because I was a little bit nervous, which is normal,” Rublev said after the match. “And then when he broke me in the second set, I relaxed and I started to serve much better, but it was too late.”
At any other tournament, Rublev would be packing his bags, but this week, the players can afford to lose a match. Last year, no player made it out of the round-robin stage unscathed. Writing off the five-time 2020 title winner after one underwhelming display would be unwise, but if he’s unable to quell his nerves on Tuesday against Stefanos Tsitsipas, he will have a short-lived event debut.
“[Rublev] is a tough cookie,” Tsitsipas told press ahead of their recent Roland Garros quarterfinal matchup, which the Greek would win in straight-sets. “He's a very challenging player to play against. I think he for sure brings the best out of me when I step out on the court to play against him.”
Tsitsipas also says that Rublev has a complete solid game from all departments. If that is true, his transition and net game is the most scarcely stocked department.
Rublev coughed up several crucial points against Nadal with some puzzling volleys and unsure decision making.
Tsitsipas will need to bring Rublev forward and test his volleys, if nothing else but to change up the pattern and take away the Russian’s rhythm.
Tuesday’s match will be the pair’s third meeting in three months, but the previous two— in Hamburg and Paris— were on clay. By now, there aren’t many secrets between the two. Rublev will look to do what he always does and crush forehands from the ad-court to pin Tsitsipas in his backhand corner.
If Tsitsipas can direct hit his backhand down the line consistently, he should have the slight advantage. If he chooses not to go down the line, and doesn't create a sharp enough crosscourt angle, Rublev will run around his forehand and crack it inside in, just like he did so well in Hamburg.
According to the oddsmakers, this match is a toss-up, with the defending champion listed as a slight -125 favorite. Their head-to-head record is knotted at two wins each, but based on their respective Sunday performances, look for Tsitsipas to all but eliminate the Russian from final four contention.
The Pick: Stefanos Tsitsipas