Hong Kong

Rublev rallies past Shang into Hong Kong final

Top seed will take on Ruusuvuori for trophy at ATP 250
January 06, 2024
Andrey Rublev in action against Shang Juncheng on Saturday in Hong Kong. By Alex Sharp

Andrey Rublev was pushed to the limit by Chinese wild card Shang Juncheng before booking his final spot Saturday at the Bank of China Hong Kong Tennis Open.

The top seed posted a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 triumph over the 18-year-old Shang to advance to his 24th ATP Tour final, where he'll meet Emil Ruusuvuori on Sunday.

"It was a super tough match. He's super talented and super powerful, he was playing unbelievable, making winners from any position and I was thinking at some points I have no chance," said Rublev after winning his maiden Lexus ATP Head2Head clash with Shang. "I definitely wasn't surprised as he's beaten some great players this week and since the beginning of the match he was hitting with full power. I was just afraid what to do.

"Somehow, I kept fighting, made myself think positive thoughts, to keep negative thoughts out of my head. It was close right until the end."

The No. 183 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings Shang, conqueror of three Top 50 players this week, played an opening set brimming with fearless and instinctive tennis. The ATP semi-final debutant sent out a signal of intent by breaking Rublev in the very first game. Later down a break point at 5-4, Shang skimmed a backhand onto the outer edge of the tramline, with a booming ace then securing the opener to the delight of a raucous home crowd.

In the second set, Rublev sent his own cannonball backhand down the line to break for 2-0, letting out an almighty roar to ignite his comeback. The World No. 5 proved his top-tier credentials by saving all five break points in the second set and all three of Shang's break chances in the decider, while a series of corner-to-corner rallies had Rublev's team on their feet in celebration.

"I'm really happy to be in my first final in Hong Kong in my first tournament of the season," added Rublev, who fired 29 winners, including 12 aces, according to Infosys ATP Stats as he reached his 24th ATP Tour final. "When I arrived here people were saying, 'See you on Sunday'. They don’t understand it's not about ranking. The reality is different.

"You can be the No.1, but when you go to play some players like (Arthur) Fils yesterday or Shang tonight, they prove they will be great players this year. It's tough."

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Chinese starlet Shang left Centre Court to a standing ovation, following a milestone collection of results in Hong Kong. The #NextGenATP star is up 40 spots to No. 143 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and is likely to set a new career high on Monday.

"Definitely very happy with the performance overall this week," reflected Shang, who saved match points in wins over Top 50 stars Laslo Djere and Botic van de Zandschulp in Hong Kong before, dismissing Frances Tiafoe in straight sets for his maiden Top 20 win. "I played a very disciplined week and Andrey is a Top 5 player, it was a pleasure to share the court with him.

"The game plan was to make him run, to impose my tennis, which I did very well, but kind of ran out of gas in the second set. He was the better player in the end, hats off to him. In general, it’s a huge confidence boost, everything about this week is a positive. I'm heading towards the right path and we’ll see in Melbourne.

"Looking back this is always going to be the special one and hopefully I can make more memories like this very soon."

Earlier on Centre Court, Ruusuvuori personified resilience in a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 two-hour tussle with World No .43 Sebastian Ofner.

"I'm extremely happy after a very, very tough match against a very, very good player," said the Finn, into his second ATP Tour final. "I just had to hang tight, try and be tougher with every point. Second and third set I was a lot better in the pressure points. I just stayed as strong as possible physically. It became a real fight.

"Full house, into the final, that's why you play tennis. I couldn't have asked for a better start to the year."

The World No. 69 Ruusuvuori took out second seed Karen Khachanov in the second round and is delighted with his sharp start to 2024.

"Tennis has been good since I got here before New Year. The practices have been strong, but then the first couple of matches of the year are always tough," said the 24-year-old. "So, mentally I've been great, just fighting and getting through tough moments. Hopefully I can produce the same tomorrow in a big final with Andrey."

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