Rublev's Road Back From The Sofa
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on 25 March 2019. Andrey Rublev upset seven-time champion Roger Federer on Thursday in Cincinnati to reach the quarter-finals at the Western & Southern Open.
Last February, Russian Andrey Rublev reached his career-high ATP Ranking of No. 31. Two months later, he was at home on his sofa… literally.
The 2017 Umag champion and two-time Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier missed three months last year due to a lower back stress fracture. He would spend three hours per day at a clinic doing magnetotherapy, eating lunch, and sitting on the sofa. In his words, he was doing ‘nothing’.
“That time was really tough for me. I was completely depressed, I was down. I remember I didn’t watch any tennis matches because as soon as I watched tennis news or something, I was feeling even more depressed that all the guys were playing and competing. They were on tour and I was there on the sofa doing nothing,” Rublev said. “It was a really tough moment and I’m happy that it’s almost already one year past and hopefully it’s never going to happen again.”
Rublev was desperate to return to action. He had reached the Doha final in his first tournament of 2018, a good start to the year. But he had no choice but to rehab.
“In that moment inside I was like, ‘I can’t wait, I want to be back on court as fast as possible’,” Rublev remembered. “But as soon as I arrived for my first tournament, I remember I was a little bit lost. I felt like I wasn’t there. I was feeling like I was in the past when I was playing well before the injury. To recover this mental part of being here in this moment took me a couple of months.”
Listen To ATP Radio's Interview With Rublev:
Rublev reached the semi-finals of the Citi Open, an ATP 500 tournament, in his third tournament after returning in July. But that was the best result of his comeback, also making the semi-finals in his second appearance of the Next Gen ATP Finals.
Last February, Rublev was the Russian No. 1, ahead of then-World No. 47 Karen Khachanov and No. 50 Daniil Medvedev, who also made Milan in 2017. Both Khachanov and Medvedev are now inside the World’s Top 15, while Rublev is searching for his best tennis.
“To be honest if you talk about the guys, then I’m happy for them. If they’re winning, it means I also have enough level to win these matches, to win those tournaments, so I’m happy for them because we’re not enemies, we are friends,” Rublev said. “My goal is not if I do better [than them] or not. My goal is bigger. It’s to win big tournaments.”
Rublev has shown flashes of his best tennis in recent weeks, qualifying in both Indian Wells and Miami. In the California desert, the 21-year-old advanced to the third round, in which he lost to Khachanov. On Saturday, he upset ninth seed Marin Cilic in straight sets to reach the third round in Miami, earning a clash with #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
The Cilic win is Rublev’s best by ATP Ranking since the 2017 US Open, where he beat Grigor Dimitrov. The Russian applied tons of pressure on former World No. 3 Cilic, earning 22 break points.
“It definitely is amazing for me, especially against a great player like Marin. I’ve known him a long time. I played him once a couple years ago, so I knew it was going to be very tough for me,” Rublev said. “I’m really happy that I won and I’m sure it’s going to give me much more confidence and I hope I will improve and play better and better.”
Rublev has been slowly feeling better this season. He points to a strong base he built during his off-season training in Barcelona.
“I started to move better, I started to feel that I was hitting the ball quite well. Then I was a little bit out mentally,” Rublev said. “But now mentally I’m much better and now everything is starting to come all together. Little by little, I’m starting to win some good matches.
“I completely forgot about my injury the past couple of months. I’m already playing fully: full practice, full intensity. So hopefully everything is recovered inside of my body and I’m hopefully 100 per cent healthy.”
It’s clear that Rublev has the potential to make up ground, and quickly. According to Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, who plays a similarly big-hitting game, the Russian has a bright future ahead of him.
“I think he has big potential. He’s a very good ball-striker from the baseline and I am pretty sure he will have a really great career,” Basilashvili said. He had the problem with his back and hopefully he will fully recover soon. I think he’s a really good player.”
Rublev is currently the World No. 99, and he fell as low as No. 115 in February. But the Russian is not worrying about that. He’s only concerned with his tennis.
“That was the last time I opened my ranking and then I never opened it again. Maybe sometimes I saw my name and sometimes on the draw they put the number and then I saw it. But I never opened it to see where I was in the Race or how many points I’m going to lose or gain,” Rublev said. “I haven’t looked since that time, because then you start to feel a little bit stressed and I don’t want to feel stressed.”
Rublev just wants to work hard, earn his way back to the stage, and compete with the very best in the sport.