Rising Rublev mastering the art of acceptance

15 January 2020, by Reem Abulleil

If there’s one thing Andrey Rublev can take away from his 2019 season, it’s how he learned to accept whatever is thrown his way, both in life and on the tennis court.

“The first half of the season everything looked like it would be the worst season of my life. But in the end how I accepted and still was trying and in the end it turned out to be the best season of my life. Probably that was a good thing from my side,” the 22-year-old Russian says.

Twelve months ago, Rublev was ranked 84 in the world and was trying to find his way after a stress fracture in his lower back wreaked havoc with his 2018 campaign, keeping him out of action for a full three months.

He started turning things around last July, when he made the Hamburg final. An impressive run to the quarters in Cincinnati – as a qualifier – soon followed, where he notched an upset of Roger Federer en route.

“The match with Roger, I was more impressed by Roger,” Rublev told reporters in Adelaide after his 6-3, 6-3 win over Sam Querrey on Wednesday.

“I was not thinking about myself at that time. I was thinking about him.

“But I think the one thing that I noticed that if I will do everything great, everything professional, everything good, I will take care of my body, I will try to improve all the things that I need to improve, that this level that I was playing with Roger can be my normal level.

“But for this I have to work a lot, a lot, a lot. Because this one match that happened with Roger, it happens only once. The next day we saw the real level,” he said laughing, referring to his defeat to his fellow Russian Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals.

“So it’s like they bring me back [to Earth]. ‘Okay, we show you where, if you do everything right, where you can be. Okay, now we go back and let’s see if you can do this or not’. So in the end, we’ll see if I can do this or not.”

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Rublev follows a policy of taking nothing for granted, and it is obviously paying off.

He made the fourth round of the US Open a couple of weeks after his statement win over Federer, and lifted his first trophy on home soil at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last October. He wrapped up his 2019 with four consecutive singles wins for Russia in Davis Cup, helping them make the semi-finals there, and picked up this season right where he left off by clinching the title in Doha last week.

Jet-lagged and running on just three hours of sleep, Rublev was clinical against Querrey in Adelaide on Wednesday to book a spot in the quarter-finals. It was Rublev’s ninth victory in a row and he now carries a 15-set winning streak into his next clash with Daniel Evans.

These are impressive numbers, but ones he apparently was unaware of.

“I was not even thinking ‘til you told me this now. But I don’t know. For the moment I have good confidence, but in the end, it is more about mental,” he says.

“So I think it’s important that I have now mental confidence, because in the end, the game confidence, you never know. One day you still can play so good. The other day can be not that good. And in the end it’s all about how you accept these things and how you will find the solution if you’re not playing well. It’s more about this. And I hope I’m improving in this little bit.”

Improving mentally is his number one goal for 2020. Now ranked a career-high No.18 and regarded as one of the most in-form players on tour at the moment, Rublev finds himself in a different position compared to last year, where he was fighting his way back up the rankings and pushing himself forward.

He’s not worried about letting up just yet, as he eyes even further progress.

“First of all, I stopped expecting anything. I accept everything. Even if I lose first round in Australian Open, I accept this,” he reiterates.

“The main goal for me is become strong mentally, because on a top level, you can see Roger, Rafa, Djokovic, all the other top players, how mentally they are strong.

“Me, compared to them, I’m far away. And this is the main goal. So in the end doesn’t matter how good even I’m gonna play Australian Open. If I don’t improve mental part, in the end I’m still going to be far away from them. So in the end is more about long term.”

Rublev admits that mastering the art of acceptance is a long process, but his injuries helped him get on the right path.

His time away from the sport reignited his passion for tennis and he has shown supreme work ethic ever since. Rublev ended his 2019 season late – end of November – because of his Davis Cup duties and started his pre-season training the very next day. It sounds like he should be exhausted but instead, he is eager to keep competing.

“Actually, I was telling to my coaches that I didn’t want it to stop the [2019] season. I was saying, ‘No, I just started to feel that I’m playing good. I just started to feel that I can compete with the good players, and then the season is over. Like, now I have to wait for two months for the new season?’” he says.

“So I didn’t want it to stop. I wanted to keep going, keep going. For the moment, I’m enjoying, really enjoying.”

For the first time since 2005, there are three Russians ranked in the top 20, with Medvedev, Karen Khachanov and Rublev flying the flag for their country and making waves on the circuit.

Rublev is good friends with both his compatriots but isn’t wasting time concentrating on their achievements.

“I’m focused more on myself probably because there are so many guys, even younger, or the same age, from different countries showing amazing tennis and are higher ranked than me or somewhere close so at the end it’s not only about Russian tennis, we’re not only playing tennis in Russia,” said the 22-year-old.

“So for me, of course it’s all motivation because when I see one guy more or less my age, showing amazing results and beating good players, it gives me motivation and hope that if he can do this then maybe also I can do this, and it gives you a bit more confidence.

“For me it gives me confidence when I see one guy, like Stefanos [Tsitsipas] winning London, or [Alexander] Zverev winning London, that gives me even more hope and confidence that I can do it as well. That is I think amazing. We’ll see if I can show something and I can show good results.”

It’s fair to assume those “good results” are just around the corner for the power-hitting Rublev.