Andrey Rublev started the 2020 season as hot as anyone on the ATP Tour, becoming the first player since 2004 to win back-to-back titles in the first two weeks of the season.
But the COVID-19 pandemic suspended play in March, putting a halt to the 22-year-old’s momentum. You would expect Rublev to be disappointed, but that’s not the case.
“I’m one of the people who can’t complain at all because I was living a normal life. It was not easy for millions of people because they were losing jobs,” Rublev said ahead of the Western & Southern Open. “Maybe they didn’t have enough money to live a [normal] life. For sure I’m not the one who can complain.”
Rublev considers himself lucky. During quarantine, when allowed, he was still able to keep busy by playing tennis and working on his game.
“I was practising tennis and that was the only thing that was disconnecting me from everything that was happening around the world,” Rublev said. “I was happy that I was able to play tennis to keep practising and that was helping me because otherwise I would be completely mentally destroyed. But for sure in my position I cannot even complain.”
The Russian believes that over the past five months he has dealt better with this situation than he would have a couple years ago. He says one of his biggest improvements has been the ability to accept situations, which proved key during the pandemic.
“If it happened maybe two, three years ago I would maybe be somewhere with a white face, without hair, completely broken,” Rublev said. “I learned how to accept [things]. Almost everything, not yet everything, but I’ve started to accept [things].
“I was playing really, really well [before the pandemic] but I could not do anything about this. Nobody expected this and no one wanted it to happen. I just had to accept it.”
It’s not the first time Rublev was out for an extended period. He suffered a lower back stress fracture in 2018, missing three months.
“If you compare the back injury, I was not accepting. I didn’t want to accept that it was happening to me. I was thinking this was something that I was just unlucky with, as soon as I will go on court I will show you that I will start to win,” Rublev said. “But in the end, no, [my team told] me, ‘Relax, you need to improve many things first and then let’s see if you can win matches.’”
Rublev has proven himself plenty capable of that, climbing to a career-high No. 14 in the FedEx ATP Rankings this year. He began 2020 with two ATP Tour titles, quickly doubling that with victories in Doha and Adelaide. Former World No. 4 Brad Gilbert, who coached Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick, is impressed.
“He was playing really solid. He was 15-3. I like the way he was playing. He rips the ball,” Gilbert said. “I like the way he rocks the ball.”
The 2019 Western & Southern Open quarter-finalist isn’t just a talented ball-striker, though. He has the work ethic to back it up according to 23-year-old Alexander Bublik, who has competed against Rublev for a decade, dating back to their junior days.
“Of course he has better results,” Bublik said. “But [it is also] just his work ethic and just the willingness to work on a daily basis.”
“I was working a lot on my body in general, some muscles that I was never using, some exercises that I was never able to do mobility wise,” Rublev said of what he focussed on during quarantine. “For sure I improved in strength, in mobility. In tennis I don’t know because we haven’t competed for half a year. We’re going to see now, but for sure besides tennis, for sure I have improved fitness wise.”
As tennis returns this week at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, will Rublev be able to replicate the form that helped him start the year on such a high note?
“If I knew the secret I would use it also for these weeks. I was just happy. I was playing really well,” Rublev said. “I was just thinking match by match and I was winning match by match and I was playing better and better. These kind of things aren’t going to happen every year.”
Most importantly, Rublev is just excited to be competing again. He will play Daniel Evans in the first round.
“Finally we are back, finally we are here,” Rublev said. “I was missing this. You can’t imagine how much.”