Alexander Bublik: Winning The Mental Game
Whether he’s hitting an underarm serve, a tweener or contesting a thrilling rally, Alexander Bublik is always eye-catching and entertaining. And while the Kazakhstani’s gun-ho unpredictability is part of Bublik's on-court persona, since the resumption of the ATP Tour in August last year, the Kazakhstani has added an element of consistency to his armoury.
Two ATP Tour final appearances this year and a place in his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final, at this week’s Miami Open presented by Itau, are credit to his application since the enforced, five-month suspension due to the global COVID-19 pandemic last season.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve done much different, because tennis is completely a mental game,” Bublik told ATPTour.com in Miami. “But for all the time I’ve spent off the court in the past 12 months, I’ve used it as a positive experience. I’ve always been a hard worker in the off-season since I was a kid, because I don’t like just being home and doing nothing. I enjoyed the lockdown, because I knew there weren’t tournaments ahead of me, but the minute I knew — and know — there is something to work towards, I focus and I work hard.
“If I win some matches and get on a run, I realise the importance of that and refine my game. I grow in confidence, but I like the ‘go big or go home’ style of play. I can run for three hours if needed, whether I want it or not, but I like the 50/50 chance and the adrenaline rush of serving an ace, or winning a match, or the fear of serving at full power on a second serve. That’s what keeps me going and what I play for. If I hit an ace, it’s a great feeling.”
Having stopped counting how many FedEx ATP Rankings points he’d win or lose, prior to stepping onto court, 23-year-old Bublik is reaping the dividends of hard work, but also the experience of 71-year-old Boris Sobkin, the former coach of Mikhail Youzhny, and Artem Suprunov, his senior by four years.
“Boris has mentored me and brought a lot to my game,” said Bublik, who is close to breaking into the Top 40 for the first time. “He gives me more stability, not in the technical parts of the game, but how to go about winning matches. Boris keeps an eye on Artem and I, helping us a lot with his experience. Artem helps me with the mental side, he listens to Boris, and I think we’re doing pretty well.”
Three months into the 2021 ATP Tour season and the right-hander has already compiled more match wins (15) than he did last year (14), including runner-up finishes at the Antalya Open (l. to De Minaur) in January and the Singapore Tennis Open (l. to Popyrin) in February. Over the past seven days in Miami, his sixth Masters 1000 tournament appearance, Bublik has struck 37 aces in three victories, over Laslo Djere, James Duckworth and Taylor Fritz, and won on average 74 per cent of his first-service points.
Bublik’s decision to break away from his father, Stanislav, and stand on his own two feet in the middle of 2019, provided a big boost to his growth. “If I reflect on what he told me until I was 18 or 19 years old, I only began to understand after we split up,” said Bublik. “He loved, nurtured and did everything he could to help me become the player I am. I am happy that I had a good journey with my father, and it was the right time to end too. I’ve grown up and used life experiences in a positive way. Maybe in the future my father can help me out, but not right now.”
Laidback, but engaging, Bublik has started to prove that he is ambitious. But once he gets to lift his first ATP Tour trophy, even he isn’t sure how he’ll react.
“When I will win my first title, I am not sure if you’ll see a very happy Alex Bublik,” said Bublik, smiling. “I try to treat victory and defeat just the same. If you’re super happy about a win or anything, then it will have repercussions later. It will only be a matter of time, but it’s just another milestone.
“What last year's lockdown taught me is that there is more to life than tennis. I enjoyed my trips to the grocery store or visiting friends, but it also gave me time to think. The sport is more than entertaining fans and hard work, you’ve got to be disciplined to be consistent. I continue to work on all areas of game and trust that I’m on the right path.”