© Samer Alrejjal

Andrey Rublev opens his 2020 ATP Tour campaign with a straight-sets win over Mikhail Kukushkin in Doha.

Rublev Overcomes Nerves To Win Doha Opener

Former champion Tsonga, Raonic fall to #NextGenATP stars

Second seed Andrey Rublev felt nervous entering his second-round opener at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, but came through his first test of the 2020 ATP Tour season with flying colours as he dismissed Mikhail Kukushkin 6-4, 6-2 on Wednesday in Doha.

Rublev had lost to the Kazakhstani in three of their past four tour-level main draw encounters, and anticipated another “really tough match”. But the 2018 Doha runner-up needed just 69 minutes to clinch the victory as he converted on four of his nine break points and dropped serve once.

“I'm really happy that I could win in straight sets today,” said Rublev. “Both of us were not really feeling the ball as normally we can feel, so it was more about mental.

“It was first match of the season, first match since two months. And, of course, I was a little bit nervous... But in the end, I'm happy that I accepted this and I focussed more on the things [for] how I can win with the game that I have today. And I'm happy with my performance.”

The 22-year-old enjoyed a career-best season in 2019 – reaching a career-high No. 22 FedEx ATP Ranking, winning his hometown title in Moscow and earning a nomination for Comeback Player of the Year – and was pleased he could start the new season with a win.

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“Even when you finish the season well and you don't play for a while, you lose a little bit [of the] rhythm of playing… If you win the first match, you feel like you're back in the rhythm,” he said. “And if you lose, you feel I'm not in the rhythm; I need to win match to feel this feeling, to bring the confidence back. And that's why I think it's important, the beginning of the season.”

Rublev will look to continue his run in Doha when he next meets Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in their first ATP Head2Head meeting. Herbert, last year’s doubles champion (with David Goffin), dismissed No. 5 seed Laslo Djere 6-1, 6-3 in 62 minutes.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s bid to reclaim the Doha title was cut short as he lost to Serbian #NextGenATP star Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6(9), 6-1. The third-seeded Frenchman held three set points in the first-set tie-break, but was unable to capitalise. Kecmanovic, 20, won five straight games to close out the 74-minute match and oust the 2012 champion.

“It was definitely one of my better wins,” said Kecmanovic. “I've had some exciting wins last year. And to start the year off with such a big name, it's definitely motivating me and giving me a lot more confidence to keep going.”

Kecmanovic, who finished 2019 by reaching the semi-finals at the Next Gen ATP Finals, will next meet Hungarian qualifier Marton Fucsovics, a 6-1, 6-4 winner over Turkish wild card Cem Ilkel.

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Spaniard Fernando Verdasco advanced beyond the Round of 16 for just the second time in eight appearances at this ATP 250 tournament, finishing strong to defeat sixth seed Filip Krajinovic 7-5, 4-6, 6-0. The 36-year-old Verdasco, who moved to Doha five years ago, achieved his best result here in 2017 when he reached the semi-finals (l. to Djokovic).

Verdasco will next play 20-year-old French qualifier Corentin Moutet, who prevailed against fourth-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic 7-6(4), 7-6(4). Former World No. 3 Raonic was making his Doha debut. 

Mixed Results For Doubles Seeds
All four doubles seeds played their quarter-final matches Wednesday in Doha, resulting in two wins and two losses for the top tandems.

Second seeds Henri Kontinen and Franko Skugor battled their way into the semi-finals with a 6-7(2), 6-4, 13-11 victory over Ken Skupski and Neal Skupski. They will face Rohan Bopanna and Wesley Koolhof for a spot in the final after the No. 3 seeds dismissed Frances Tiafoe and Stan Wawrinka, 6-3, 6-4.

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares, the No. 1 seeds, fell to Frederik Nielsen and Tim Puetz 4-6, 6-2, 10-7, while fourth-seeded Frenchmen and 2017 champions Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin were defeated by Luke Bambridge and Santiago Gonzalez 6-3, 7-6(7).

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