© Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Andrey Rublev makes his Madrid debut.

Rublev Survives Paul Challenge In Madrid

The Russian next takes on the winner of Bautista Agut vs. Isner

Andrey Rublev overcame a tough challenge on his Mutua Madrid Open debut on Tuesday to beat Tommy Paul 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 for a place in the third round. Paul put forth a strong effort while Rublev struggled to control the ball in the unfamiliar high altitude. 

"It’s important to win when you’re not [playing] your [best] game and things are not going well," the Russian said on-court. "So it’s really important to win this match to have more confidence. I’m happy that I turned it around."

The World No. 7, who has advanced to the quarter-finals or better in all seven tournaments he has played this season, is now 9-2 at the ATP Masters 1000 level in 2021, after reaching the semi-finals in Miami and the final in Monte-Carlo.

Rublev opened up a 4-2 lead in the first set, but Paul stayed calm, even with this week also marking his Madrid debut. After four straight service breaks heading into the tie-break, and later a 1/5 deficit, the American held his nerve to fight back and clinch the 49-minute opener by winning six points in a row.

In the second set, Paul showed signs of fatigue, and after trading service games, Rublev capitalised on Paul’s slight letdown in energy to break for 5-3. The third set could have gone either way with both raising their intensity. Paul had a look at a break point at 4-3, but Rublev saved it and then took all of the momentum to break in the very next game. He sealed his first win in Madrid with an ace.

Rublev improves to 3-0 in their ATP Head2Head Series and inches ahead of Stefanos Tsitsipas to take the lead for most ATP wins in 2021 with 27. He will next take on the winner of John Isner and Roberto Bautista Agut.

Bautista Agut proved too solid for qualifier Marco Cecchinato, winning 6-2, 6-7(3), 7-5 in 2 hours and 30 minutes. Cecchinato tested the World No. 11 by saving three match points in the second set to force a decider. 

Bautista Agut, who is a former semi-finalist in Madrid (2014), has reached two finals already this year (Montpellier and Doha) as well as the semi-finals of Miami. He’s seeking his first deep run on clay after falling in the third round in both Monte-Carlo and Barcelona.

Cecchinato started the season with a 1-6 record, though the World No. 104 has turned things around in the last month with second-round showings in his previous four events. A three-time ATP Tour titlist, the Italian has been ranked as high as World No. 16.

In the first set, Bautista Agut made took control with a break of serve for 4-2. He wrapped up the set routinely by converting on 100 per cent of his break chances (2/2). The Spaniard would hold three match points while trying to serve out the match at 6-5, but Cecchinato dug deep to force a decider. Bautista Agut regrouped quickly for a 5-3 lead and despite another late-set hiccup, the 33-year-old would break at love at 6-5 to earn a place in the third round.

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