Andrey Rublev’s big clay-court breakthrough came back in 2017 at the Croatian Open. The Russian lost his final round of qualifying match against Attila Balazs, but was fortunate enough to make the main draw as a lucky loser. Wins over players like Fabio Fognini or Paolo Lorenzi (back then the world No. 34) gave him his maiden tour-level title and a huge leap up the rankings. That tournament in Umag was played on clay.
Missing parts of the clay-court swings
Still, over the next few years, Rublev made himself a reputation of a fantastic player mostly on hard courts. His resume lacks deep runs at big clay tournaments. However, it wasn’t always his fault. In 2018, Rublev came to the Monte Carlo Masters in April on a five-match losing streak. Despite being really low on confidence, he defeated Robin Haase and lost a tight game to Dominic Thiem 7-5 5-7 5-7. It was during that match that he sustained a back injury that kept him out of the game for the rest of the spring clay-court season. He would later play Gstaad and Umag but without much success.
The year 2019 saw him pick up some very mixed results at the beginning of the season, but getting onto clay certainly didn’t do him any good. Losses to Antoine Hoang and Thiago Monteiro didn’t speak much of the quality he can produce on clay. On top of that, an injury kept him from playing Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros again.
Healthy and ready to compete
But positive signs came soon. At the 2019 Hamburg European Open, Rublev suddenly started beating one talented clay-courter after another. Wins over Christian Garin and Casper Ruud saw him advance to the quarterfinals, where he took on Dominic Thiem again. This time, Rublev managed to beat the Austrian star and finished the tournament as the runner-up, losing to Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Fast forward over a year later, and Rublev is now a player situated just behind the top 10 in the ATP Rankings. In the period between the 2019 tournament in Hamburg up to the 2020 edition, he claimed wins over Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Matteo Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas, or Roberto Bautista Agut. He also added three more ATP titles to his tally and reached his 2nd Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2020 US Open. All these results came on hard courts, which is statistically his best surface. But in this form, Andrey Rublev can be a threat on any court. Back in Hamburg over a year after his runner-up finish, the Russian is looking to show his game can work on the dirt as well.
Working out ways to stay aggressive
On Monday at the Hamburg European Open, Andrey Rublev took out Tennys Sandgren in a very comfortable 6-3 6-3 fashion. The American kept it close until 3-3 in the opening set, from which point it was pretty much one-way traffic in favour of Rublev. The deadliest weapon in the Russian’s game is his overwhelming forehand. While it loses some of the pop on clay, it’s still a heavy enough shot to dictate the rallies. While it appears to have a very low margin of error, Rublev has been proving time and time again that he’s able to sustain a long rally with it. The slowness of the clay also allows him to find more time to run around his weaker backhand wing.
Another thing to talk about is Rublev’s serve. The first delivery is one of the biggest reasons for the Russian’s improvement as of late. It’s allowing him to start the rallies from a better position and find more free points, which is extremely important on such a physically demanding surface. The second serve is sort of his Achilles heel, losing a ton off the speed of the first and being pretty one-dimensional. But as the kick serve bounces higher on the dirt, it is tougher for the opponents to rip the ball back at Rublev.
Rublev will play Tommy Paul next for a spot in the quarterfinals. The Hamburg European Open is the last warm-up event before the 2020 Roland Garros. Because of the prior injuries, Rublev played the Paris slam just once in his career, back three years ago. Perhaps this edition can be a great chance for the Russian to shine in the capital of France?