Most elite athletes thrive behind supreme confidence, their self-belief — justified or not — willing them to achieve the impossible.
Andrey Rublev is built different. For any fans who have seen the unique 26-year-old’s affable off-court demeanor, that will come as no surprise. But Rublev is very much his own man inside the lines as well.
This season, when he won his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Monte-Carlo, he battled back from 1-4, 0/30 in the third set to defeat Holger Rune in the final. What was going through his head as the Dane was pulling away?
“That it was over,” Rublev told the ATP Tour’s cameras earlier this season. “It was over, but at least try to play, not to give up. You never know, maybe somehow there will be one chance to come back and maybe somehow you will be lucky and you will make it.”
In the end, Rublev found a way through — though luck had little to do with it. After two previous defeats in ATP Masters 1000 finals, he was brought to tears upon claiming the elusive crown on the Monaco clay.
The trophy carried added significance after recent changes to Rublev’s coaching team. While Fernando Vicente, Rublev’s primary coach since 2016, remained in his role, there was a major shakeup beyond that before the start of the season.
“In the beginning of the year, I was feeling that I was doing good things in the practices. But I was not wining something big, so you still have weird feelings,” Rublev said of the new setup, speaking in a recent interview with ATPTour.com.
“And then Monte-Carlo just gave me the confidence that the work that I was doing was the right way. Then some results later and Shanghai [reaching the final] proved that the team that I have, the practices that I’m doing, this is the way I was looking for and I have to do it with even more confidence.”
Rublev has proven many times he can beat the world’s best. He has 23 wins against the Top 10, including a victory against current World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. In early November at the Rolex Paris Masters, he nearly earned a second win against the Serbian, but fell just short in a semi-final match of the highest quality
“Rublev was suffocating me like a snake suffocates a frog for most of the match,” Djokovic said after a dramatic 5-7, 7-6(3), 7-5 victory. “He was playing an extremely high level that he possesses, but today he was off the charts, honestly. I don’t think I’ve ever faced Rublev this good.”
Prior to that meeting, when asked what he would need to do to beat the Serbian at the Nitto ATP Finals, Rublev maintained his humble attitude.
“I need to play my best match and he needs to play his worst match,” he said, later repeating the same answer when asked about his chances against Carlos Alcaraz.
There is no doubt Rublev will need to be firing on all cylinders at his fourth Nitto ATP Finals appearance, where he will be one champion among eight of the ATP Tour’s best. But by keeping his expectations low, he may be setting the stage for his biggest title yet.
“It kind of takes out the pressure,” Rublev said. “Of course, if I play [Djokovic or Alcaraz], I will do my best to try to compete against them and to have a chance to try to win it. But it’s super tough, and they’re better than me and they show it already for many years. So we’ll see. For this I need to really, really to play my best tennis.”
Rublev Earns Fourth Consecutive Nitto ATP Finals Qualification
That’s exactly what Rublev did last season in Turin, when he made the semi-finals by coming from a set down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in a winner-takes-all group finale. Like in the Monte-Carlo final, Rublev was overwhelmed by a strong start from his opponent and harboured little hope of a comeback. But that did not stop him from fighting, and that fight yielded another one of the biggest wins in his career.
“It was a great moment to be in the semi-finals at one of the best tournaments of tennis,” he reflected, nearly one year later. “To be part of it was special. I remember when I won, the emotions were crazy.”
But rather than let that memory inflate his ego, Rublev was quick to point out the rare air in which he found himself after the win.
“It’s not going to happen often,” he said, looking ahead to the possibility of another deep run in Turin. “Of course I will do everything to be able to feel this emotion again. But we’ll see.
“There is all the best players. Everyone wants to win and everyone is playing unreal.”