Rublev Stuns Nadal In Monte-Carlo QFs
The sixth-seeded Russian entered the clash trailing Nadal 0-2 in their ATP Head2Head and facing down the Spaniard’s daunting 73-5 record at this event. But he came out swinging fearlessly against Nadal on Court Rainier III, the same court where the Spaniard has lifted a record 11 trophies in the Principality.
“[On one side], if we look [at] a player like Rafa, who is the best clay-court player in history, then of course it's one of my best victories for sure,” Rublev said in his post-match press conference. “But if you look at [it] from [the] other side, how he feels, for sure he didn't play his even ‘good’ level today. In his position it’s so tough when people expect [that] you're the best player on clay and you have to win yes or yes every time. You cannot lose on clay because you're the best. It's so tough to play with this feeling.
“He's doing this year by year. He's winning all the tournaments or going deep every time on clay tournaments. This is amazing how he handles this. That's why he's one of the legends.”
Rublev pressed Nadal from the back of the court as he dictated the rallies with his forehand and was rewarded with seven breaks of serve across three sets. Nadal has never hit more than eight double faults in a single tour-level match in his career (2014 Indian Wells), but he struck five in the first set alone and seven in total against Rublev. The Spaniard looked out of sorts during the early exchanges and was uncharacteristically misfiring on the backhand wing – a side that Rublev honed in on to great success.
“All the situation was strange,” Rublev said of his dominant start. “I mean, [it] was not real that I was winning 6-2, 3-1, having breakpoints for [a] second break. It was not real. Probably inside I understood that something is going to change. It cannot be like this all the match. If it's like this all the match, then I don't know, probably Rafa had his worst day of his life.”
- Graphic courtesy Hawk-Eye Innovations/ATP Media
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Once the third seed got going, it seemed like a classic Nadal comeback on clay was inevitable as he took the second set after a grueling 74-minute battle. With Nadal’s booming forehand finally connecting, the games became longer as the Spaniard tried to find inroads for a comeback. He finally broke through to level the score at 4-4, and reeled off the last four games of the set.
But Rublev responded emphatically in the decider, reestablishing his lead with an early break. He met Nadal blow for blow from the baseline, overpowering the Spaniard to open up a 5-1 lead. Rublev needed two hours and 32 minutes to close out the victory and seal a spot in his first Monte-Carlo semi-final.
“I would say this week I am controlling my emotions [really well]. At the end that's the key,” Rublev said. “If after the second set I would say something or if I would show emotions, for sure the third set will be over, [it] will be 6-2 for him. So I'm happy that I could handle it.”
The victory equals the biggest result of Rublev’s career. He now owns four wins against the World No. 3-ranked player, including a 6-3 6-4 rout of Roger Federer at 2019 ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati. Like Nadal at Monte-Carlo, Federer owns the tournament record for most titles at Cincinnati with seven wins.
Into his second consecutive ATP Masters 1000 semi-final, sixth seed Rublev will face Casper Ruud for a shot at his maiden championship match at this level. His opponent also completed an upset of his own on Friday, toppling defending champion Fabio Fognini in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, to advance. Rublev owns a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against Ruud, including two victories on clay.
“[Casper] is playing really well. I have known him [for a] long time. He is an amazing player and every match against him was a dramatic match,” Rublev said. “We had really great rallies and a really great level of tennis. It is going to be super tough.
"He is in great shape now. He finished today much earlier [than me]. We will see what is going to happen tomorrow. I will try to recover as best as I can and to do my best tomorrow.”