By Reem Abulleil
Andrey Rublev waited a long time before finally lifting a maiden Masters 1000 trophy in Monte Carlo earlier this month.
Now he has one request: Just give him some breathing room before quizzing him on when he plans to win another one!
“You guys start to put pressure, ‘How good can you do in Madrid?’ I was waiting for one Masters 1000 for so long and already you are putting pressure and asking me when is the second one?” Rublev joked while being interviewed by Seb Lauzier on Tennis TV.
Rublev’s red-hot clay-court campaign resumed with an opening victory in Madrid over three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka on Friday.
After following up his heroics in Monte Carlo with a runner-up showing in Banja Luka, Rublev has now improved to 9-1 on clay this month with a 7-5, 6-4 success over Wawrinka to move into the Mutua Madrid Open third round.
The 38-year-old Wawrinka entered the contest with a 2-1 head-to-head record lead against Rublev and searching for a first top-10 victory on clay since Roland Garros in 2019.
A former finalist in Madrid, the 84th-ranked Wawrinka put up a solid fight against Rublev, who stayed calm when he trailed by a break in the second set and managed to wrap up the win in straights.
“I’m happy that I’m going to the next round because when I saw the draw I was like, ‘It’s amazing being the fifth seed and having Wawrinka in the first round is like… I don’t know’. Sometimes I was 40 in the world and I had a much easier draw,” admitted the 25-year-old Rublev, who will next take on Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
“I was thinking maybe in a couple of days I will go very early back home. So I wasn’t looking ahead, especially that the last meeting against Stan he beat me, so I was thinking, ‘Okay, let’s focus, let’s try to do my best and let’s see what’s going to happen’, and in the end I was able to win today so it’s really good. I feel great.”
Three break points came and went for Wawrinka in game four as Rublev stood his ground to keep things on level terms. Rublev had a chance to inch ahead when he created an opportunity on his opponent’s serve late in the set but Wawrinka stayed out of trouble to hold for 5-4.
Rublev blasted a missile of a forehand winner on the run to gain ground on Wawrinka two games later and this time the No.5 seed converted the break point for a 6-5 lead and closed out the set on the 40-minute mark.
Wawrinka got his first break of the match early in the second set with some supreme returns to gain a 2-0 advantage. The Swiss’ lead didn’t last long though as Rublev took the next five games to wrestle back the reins of the match and despite a brief fightback from Wawrinka, the battle was all over after one hour and 16 minutes.
Rublev has made significant progress this season, both physically and mentally, thanks to a shake-up in his team that saw him bring in former top-40 player Alberto Martin as a second coach, fitness trainer Marcos Borderias and physiotherapist Carlos Costa.
Martin helps Rublev with his tennis alongside head coach Fernando Vicente, but he also doubles as a sports psychologist for the world No.6. The Spaniard has a degree in psychology and is helping Rublev navigate his often volatile emotions on the court.
“He’s trying. I’m not an easy guy,” Rublev told reporters in Dubai earlier this year.
In an interview with atptour.com, Martin said he was trying to help Rublev find an emotional balance while competing.
“The idea is to help Andrey walk the line between being calmer and not going crazy at the slightest provocation,” said Martin.
“But we don’t want him to lose the spark he has which makes him so good, or the aggressiveness. He is a player that has to play very aggressively, and if he’s passive and only pushes the ball, it doesn’t work. And we spoke about this with the team, about trying to find that balance. And, so far, he’s finding it.”
Indeed, Rublev is more often than not handling difficult situations in the right manner in recent weeks, which is perhaps a sign that even better results are in the cards for him moving forward.
Just don’t tell him that, he doesn’t want to hear it!