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Rublev holds off Broady in Hong Kong opener

Top seed faces Fils in quarter-finals at ATP 250
January 04, 2024
According to Infosys ATP Stats, Andrey Rublev hit 32 winners in his victory over Liam Broady on Thursday in Hong Kong. By Alex Sharp

Andrey Rublev was forced to dig deep as the top seed completed the Bank of China Hong Kong Tennis Open 2024 quarter-final line-up on Thursday night. The No. 5 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings fended off qualifier Liam Broady 6-4, 7-6(8) to book a tantalising last eight clash with teenage sensation Arthur Fils.

"Before we flew here we practised the last days together," said Rublev ahead of his maiden Lexus ATP Head2Head clash with Fils. "What can I say? He's super strong for his age, he's super powerful across the shots. I need to be really ready mentally and physically for a great battle with him."

Rublev had already featured in Hong Kong in two doubles matches but burst onto the singles scene with a 4-1 early advantage. Broady, keen to celebrate his 30th birthday in style, couldn't quite snatch away the opener, but a series of piercing returns and disguised ventures to the net kept Rublev off balance.

The British World No. 108 more than deserved his chance in the second set tie-break, but he couldn't convert three set points and a relieved Rublev could salute his legion of fans as the victor.

"Of course it was not easy at all. First match after pre-season you want to start well, you want to show a great game to everyone," said Rublev. "I was a bit tight, low on confidence, not knowing what to expect. In my case, I am the top seed, the higher expectations. I felt pretty stressed, those things sometimes can make a huge difference.

"Liam's case, when you've played a few matches, you feel more rhythm, he has nothing to lose against someone like me. In the end he was really close to winning a set, pushed me all the way. Hopefully that feeling of stress and uncertainty passes, I know now what to expect tomorrow.”

The World No. 36 Fils was forced to recalibrate and re-think his approach in a hot-shot laden contest with Switzerland's Marc-Andrea Huesler. The Swiss qualifier raced 5-2 ahead with lasered shots, before Fils found his rhythm and rattled through seven successive games with dynamic tennis for a 2-0 lead in the second set.

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The contest remained finely poised until a moment of magic. Fils lunged sideways and pinged a backhand return winner down the line to break for 6-5, before the 2023 ATP Newcomer of the Year closed out a hard-fought victory.

"I'm really happy about it. I did a really great match against a very tricky opponent," said the 19-year-old Fils. "He was serving great and was killing me from the baseline. I had to go for consistency, switch up the tactics and it worked pretty well.

"I managed to do some pretty good passing shots and returns, it was exciting. Let's see tomorrow, I hope I can bring that to court again."

Despite an enlightening week of training with 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the off-season, Fils was missing the cauldron of competition.

"The pre-season was long, but it was easy as I'm still young. I just wanted to get back to matches. I'm really happy to be back in competition and I'm looking forward to my quarter-final, to place the next week, a Grand Slam again, I just want to play matches.

"I want to play without pressure, just go for more wins, I'll take as many as I can."

Earlier on Thursday, Roberto Bautista Agut rolled back the years with an accomplished 7-5, 6-3 scoreline over fourth seed Francisco Cerundolo. With his rapid footwork and canny short-court angles, the former World No. 9 proved his endeavours in pre-season have paid off.

“I still have the motivation to improve. I enjoy practising new things and trying to bring those things to the matches," said Bautista Agut. "That’s the drug that keeps me playing tennis."

Bautista Agut's 2023 was disrupted by breaking a bone in his foot as a result of a horse-riding accident in July, prompting a three-month stint on the sidelines.

“It was not easy at all. I broke a bone. It was very tough," he said. “It was my longest time out from the Tour, it took me a while to feel well physically, well mentally and confident in my tennis. I’m happy now I’m feeling well on the court and back to play good tennis.”

Bautista Agut will take on Austrian Sebastian Ofner on Friday in the last eight. The World No. 43 held his nerve in a scintillating 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 7-6(2) comeback against fifth seed Jan-Lennard Struff.

"It was a great match, a really high level across the whole match from both of us. Just one or two points decided the match," said the Austrian. "I'm very happy, second match of the year almost three hours, what a start."

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