Rublev: Calm vs Storm
Coach Fernando Vicente evaluates the Russian’s game in 2020
“Vamos!”. As Andrey Rublev’s thunderous cry echoes around the Louis Armstrong Stadium, the surprising thing is not the intensity of his celebration, because reaching the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam more than justifies it. Nor is it the passion of his delivery; beating a Top 10 player and the man who sent him packing from last year’s US Open means he has removed a thorn from his side. The curious thing about the roar is the language he chose to use. “Everyone in my team is Spanish,” explained the smiling Russian.
The team Rublev was talking about is headed by his coach, Fernando Vicente, the man who has been by his side en route to the ATP Tour elite throughout the past four seasons. During this time he has been sculpting his fearsome potential and curbing his impulsive character.
“He is an excitable guy, he has his goals and people aim very high,” Vicente told ATPTour.com. “You have to be realistic and help him leave stress to one side, aid him with the psychological aspect and make sure he sees that if he loses, we are still there.”
The Russian has certainly got used to celebrating victory more than ever (19-4 in 2020). Despite the peculiarity of an exceptional season, with a five-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has managed to adapt to the circumstances like few others. He started the year by stringing together titles at Doha and Adelaide and has now reached the last eight at Flushing Meadows.
“He had a very good finish to the year, because he also won in Moscow and that was very important to him. Then, he started 2020 by winning another two titles,” said Vicente.
“Andrey works very hard, he really likes tennis and he deserves everything that is happening. He knows what his weaknesses are, although sometimes he’s very impulsive. But that is his character and we’re working on it. The idea is to improve the finer points because there are a lot of things to improve, but little-by-little we’re getting there.”
After 11 consecutive wins in January, Alexander Zverev stopped him in his tracks in the Australian Open Round of 16. The wave he was riding at the start of the year came crashing down with the suspension of the ATP Tour.
“Stopping, after such a good start to the year, when you have that momentum and lots of points, is stressful,” said Rublev. “But it’s been hard for everyone. We can’t complain, in the end we are playing in a bubble, while there are people who are having a tough time. The situation is the same for all players.”
Somewhere in that bubble in New York, there is a first-time Grand Slam champion. None of the players still standing in the US Open have won a major title. The opportunity is clear to all.
“I think that is on everyone’s mind,” said Rublev. “When there is a more open draw, there are more chances. None of the players from Dominic [Thiem] to the rest of them have won a Grand Slam and that is in their minds. In our case, we won’t go there at least until we reach the final. It’s still a long way off. It’s best to focus on the next match.”
Vicente calms the storm. “He is ambitious, there’s no doubt. If I were in the quarter-finals, I think I would be too. It’s normal. You have to remain calm,” said Vicente. “He has his numbers in mind and he aims high, but my mission is not to tell him that he has to be the No. 1 or the No. 2 or the No. 22. I have to do my job every day thinking about the next match and I can’t talk to him about winning a tournament because I don’t think that’s my role.”
The 22-year-old is the third-youngest player in the quarter-finals at the US Open, while Carreno Busta is the oldest at 29. Flushing Meadows has opened the door to the young guns. Is it their time? The coach of the No. 14 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings is clear.
“If they are here and winning matches it’s because they are good enough,” said Vicente. “There were also older players here who wanted to win. So they are good enough, end of discussion.”
During quarantine, the Russian was able to spend his time polishing some aspects of his tennis that have bolstered his game on the return to competition.
“He’s worked hard, we’ve had time and he’s feeling fresh,” said Vicente. “He did play very badly in the first week, he was nervous and the lack of competition was evident. But we had a lot of time to talk, to work, to get on a par with the big names, both in terms of the importance of the mental side and in having variation, approaching the net more often, improving the second serve, which is where he used to get attacked, how to handle his emotions... This makes the difference.”
Rublev has already equalled the best Grand Slam run of his career and the American hard courts are a favourable surface for his game.
“Last year, he reached the last 16, beating Tsitsipas, Kyrgios and Simon. If you look at this year’s draw, it’s different,” said Vicente. “This time he has got further, although he beat Berrettini in a match in which he stepped up his game. He showed that he has the game, but to keep progressing, from here we’ll see what happens with Medvedev.”
Whatever happens in Flushing Meadows, he will be the closest he has ever been to the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“Honestly, the goal is to try to win as many matches as possible, we’re aiming for practically the top because you have to make the most of it”, said Vicente. “Finish in the Top 10? I would love that, but it’s a numbers thing. It’s really not that important for me.”