How Accepting Losing Has Helped Andrey Rublev Win
Andrey Rublev sprung an upset Tuesday at the US Open, ousting eighth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion. But that wasn’t a massive surprise, as the match was on many people’s radar. Just two weeks ago, Rublev defeated Roger Federer at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. It was expected that Rublev could trouble Tsitsipas with his powerful baseline game.
But while you may think Rublev was riding high on confidence after beating Federer, that confidence actually came from just after Wimbledon, and not on hard courts. Rublev made the final of the Hamburg European Open, an ATP 500 clay-court event.
“I won playing not good tennis, but [I made the final] just because I was fighting and I was a little bit lucky, I don’t know. I still won [matches]. And this sometimes is even better, because this also gives you confidence that even playing your worst tennis, you know how to win,” Rublev said. “This is amazing because all the top players, they know how to do it when they are playing so bad, they still have enough level to [go] at least [at a] minimum [to the] middle of the tournament. They don’t need to play their best to go far and this is amazing. This gives you a lot of confidence.”
It was Rublev’s first ATP Tour final since 2018 Doha, which came in the first week of last season. The Russian had made just one tour-level semi-final since then.
Part of the reason behind that was injuries. Although Rublev reached a career-high No. 31 in the ATP Rankings last February, he’d miss three months from April through July due to a lower back stress fracture. The 21-year-old spent three hours per day at a clinic doing magnetotherapy, then Rublev would eat lunch and sit on his sofa. He’d avoid watching tennis because he wanted to be there.
This season, Rublev fell as low as No. 115 in the ATP Rankings in February, and then he was out for six weeks towards the end of the clay-court swing due to a wrist injury. But he didn’t sit dreaming of moments like his victories over Federer and Tsitsipas.
“I try not to put goals and don’t try to think in the future, Well, if I do this…’,” Rublev said. “I just try to do my best today to improve every day and I know that if I improve these things that I need to improve, I will be a much better player, I will play much better. So this means that for sure I will win more matches. If I win more matches I will get more points, so it’s step by step you know? I focus more on this, especially on practise to give every day everything that I can.”
Something that has also helped in recent months is overcoming obstacles he hadn’t in the past. Rublev lost his first two FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Basilashvili this year, and then defeated him in three sets in Cincinnati. The World No. 43 also pointed to victories over Thomas Fabbiano and Albert Ramos-Vinolas at last week’s Winston-Salem Open.
“I was going mentally crazy because I didn’t know what to do, how to play [against them before], and I beat them,” Rublev said. “These matches are also giving a lot of confidence, when the guys you were struggling with to play and finally you become strong mentally, and you accept that okay, you can lose, but let’s do your job the best as you can. And in the end, you turn it into victory and that gives you also a lot of confidence.”
Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev — who was born exactly six months before the Russian — is a friend of Rublev’s, and they recently played doubles together at the Coupe Rogers. To the World No. 6, Rublev’s recent success is no surprise.
“He’s very motivated. He had a few injuries in the past 18 months. He’s somebody that’s very motivated to play. He’s always been a good player, he’s been [near the] Top 30 already at a very young age. I think he’s going to get back,” Zverev told ATPTour.com. “That’s the level that he can play at, definitely.”
One thing that has at times held Rublev back is his emotions on the court. There has never been a question of the Russian’s talent — he can strike groundstrokes from the baseline with the best players in the world. But sometimes, he has let his passion get the best of him in key moments.
German Jan-Lennard Struff gets on well with Rublev and is highly complimentary of the 2017 Umag champion's game and character. He has known the Russian since his early teenage years, when Rublev's emotions were plenty visible.
“He was practising [in Halle where I lived] when he was like 13 or 14, I don’t remember. My ex-girlfriend was driving him because he had no car. She was driving him to supermarkets. I don’t know if he remembers that, but it was quite funny,” Struff told ATPTour.com. “He was always on court throwing his racquet, playing with one of the club guys and just playing every ball full power and not putting it into the court, putting it into the court felt like random.
“One of the coaches said there’s no chance that he’s not going to go Top 30. He’s such a good player and he’s a nice guy,” Struff said. “He plays so hard the ball, flat, he’s going for every shot and even if he’s missing, he’s still committed in his game. I like that a lot.”
Rublev is doing better to harness those emotions and with it, his game.
“Of course after every match that I was losing or when I was playing I was saying, ‘No, I am so bad, I am the worst one.’ But this is just to take emotions out. But of course inside I always believed,” Rublev said. “Always inside, no matter what I was saying outside, inside I know that I will do my best to try to do as best as I can.”
Rublev will look to do the same in the second round against Gilles Simon.