Rotterdam Showdown: Will Tsitsipas Crack 'Tough Cookie' Rublev?
Both men enter the blockbuster clash at the Rotterdam Ahoy with plenty of momentum. They are a combined 20-2 this season, but only one will advance to the final at this ATP 500.
“We’ve made each other better,” Tsitsipas said. “I think it’s good for the game to have players like us play against each other.”
The two Top 10 stars have the utmost respect for one another. That mutual admiration dates back to their junior days. Rublev, who was 17, twice played a 16-year-old Tsitsipas in the span of a month towards the end of 2014. Both reached junior World No. 1.
“I was just thinking that he’s really good, he’s very talented. But you cannot predict how and when of if it’s going to happen or not because so many talented guys at my age who were competing in the juniors, they didn’t make it,” Rublev said. “You [didn’t] know how his journey will be.”
Watch 2020 Hamburg Final Highlights: Rublev vs. Tsitsipas
Tsitsipas had a similar evaluation of the Russian: “He was always good in [the] juniors. He had a very good game and he was promising.”
Rublev broke through first on the ATP Tour. The Russian was the top seed at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in 2017. That year, Tsitsipas was an alternate. But in 2018, the Greek won the prestigious 21-and-under event, defeating Rublev in a five-set semi-final. The following year, Tsitsipas won the Nitto ATP Finals.
In 2018, a lower back stress fracture slowed Rublev’s progress, relegating him outside the Top 100.
“A few years ago he got injured and that was a period of time where he was doing okay,” Tsitsipas said of Rublev. “When he came back, I feel like he worked a lot and came back even stronger than he was before.”
Rublev joined the Greek near the top of the game last season, the best of his career. The Russian led the ATP Tour with five titles, one of which came in Hamburg, where he defeated Tsitsipas in the championship match.
Tsitsipas earned revenge shortly thereafter, beating Rublev in the Roland Garros quarter-finals and the Nitto ATP Finals. Stefanos leads the pair’s ATP Head2Head series 3-2, and only one of those meetings has ended in straight sets.
“He has one of the [most] huge forehands on the Tour and he’s very consistent and a hard hitter,” Tsitsipas said. “He doesn’t miss much, so that makes it very difficult playing against him.”
Rublev hits massive groundstrokes. But Tsitsipas, who has a one-handed backhand, likes coming forward to back up his own aggressive game.
“I think he has more skills than me. He goes more often to the net and he’s really good to the net. I’m more of a baseliner,” Rublev said. “But now I’ve started to also improve my volleys and I’m doing better. It’s tough to compare. We both have aggressive styles of the game, but he has more things and I think that’s also good for me, because [it means] I can improve. I can improve volleys, I can improve [my] defence.”
If history is any indication, Saturday’s semi-final will be another tight encounter between the two youngest players in the Top 10. While this certainly won’t be their last clash towards the end of a tournament, they will leave it all out on the court in The Netherlands. Neither will back down.
“It’s going to be a tough match. He has all the pressure,” Rublev said. “Last time he beat me, he has a better ranking than me, so I will just try to fight and to do my best and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”