Over the years, the term ‘rising star’ has been thrown around almost every time a young exciting talent emerges on the ATP tour. We have grown accustomed to seeing a handful of young players, nowadays dubbed as the ‘NextGen’, putting together impressive strings of results, which never fails to generate immense excitement around them. Russia’s Andrey Rublev, whose 2020 proved how dangerous he can be, is surely just such a player.
Tennis’ recent rising stars
The most talked about and successful ‘rising stars’ of the past few years have no doubt been Alexander Zverev (23) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (22). These are names that we’re now very used to seeing on the ATP tour. Both have defeated all members of the Big Three, won the ATP Finals and reached the latter stages of Grand Slams. As well as this, Zverev has three Masters titles to his name. They are now permanent fixtures in the top 10, and as a result are now rather difficult to label as ‘rising stars.’
Despite both enjoying huge success at a young age, their ascension appears to have slowed. Both have struggled greatly with consistency and have often lost matches to players ranked far below them. There is no denying that they are exceptionally talented players, but the hype around young players has turned to other up and comers, such as Felix Auger-Aliassime (20) and Jannik Sinner (19). However, the most impressive rising star over the last 18 months has almost certainly been 23-year-old Andrey Rublev.
Rublev’s incredible year coming back from injury
When Rublev first came onto the scene a few years ago, the potential was clear to see. Unfortunately, he was plagued by injuries to his lower back and his right wrist, meaning he was unable to be on the tour consistently performing at a level he knew he was capable of. Now injury free, the Russian youngster is showing the world just how dangerous he can be.
Starting the year ranked world #23 in the world, not many would have predicted the impressive and dominant display of match runs he would go on to produce. With 41 wins and just 10 losses, he equalled Novak Djokovic’s total match wins of 2020, and his win/loss ratio was beaten only by Djokovic himself. This fantastic season of tennis resulted in a year-end ranking of eighth in the world.
An all-round game
Rublev’s game centres around his fearsome power off both wings, especially his phenomenal forehand. To complement this, he is equipped with a monster of a serve and impressive consistency. We’ve also seen him execute plenty of flair, such as his audacious cross-court backhand against Roberto Bautista Agut, which saw him narrowly miss out on ATP’s Shot of the Year last season. However, this isn’t all there is to his game.
What we’ve seen so evidently is that Rublev knows how to win matches. Every player at the top of the game has excellent groundstrokes and serves, but finding a way to win is a skill that is not talked about enough. This comes with consistent match play and confidence, which Rublev has bucket loads of right now. He’s rapidly gone from a tricky youngster to a genuine force that no player on the tour is safe against.
A result which caught the eye of many was at the Cincinnati masters in 2019 where he defeated Roger Federer in straight sets, which was also the first meeting between them. A blistering combination of powerful and intelligent tennis saw him cause a major upset to arguably the greatest player of all time.
Across 2019 and 2020, Rublev faced off with world #3 Dominic Thiem on three occasions, beating him each time without dropping a set. Thiem, the current US Open champion and perhaps the most in form tennis player on the planet right now, has struggled a great deal against him. To out-hit one of the biggest hitters on tour in three consecutive matches is absolutely remarkable, and it’s a match-up that will no doubt deliver immense entertainment for years to come.
Can he defeat Novak Djokovic?
One match-up we are still yet to see is between Rublev and Djokovic. Until recently, this would have been a fairly routine match for Djokovic due to his impeccable counter punching and resilient defence. However, this is no longer the case.
Over the last decade we’ve seen a handful of aggressive players bludgeon their way through Djokovic’s defences with scintillating power and accuracy. Juan Martin del Potro, Stanislas Wawrinka and recently Dominic Thiem are just a few examples of players that have shown overpowering Djokovic can be done. It’s also interesting to note that Rublev’s style of tennis strikes a number of comparisons with that of Del Potro due to his monstrous forehand and a bullet-like serve. Will he defeat Novak if they face off this year?
That of course remains to be seen, but he no doubt has the tools and talent to do so. Given the level he is already at and the improvements he will continue to make, we know we’re in for a treat when they finally come face to face.
How far will Rublev go in 2021?
So, what does 2021 hold for Rublev? With the strides he’s made in such a short space of time, one can only predict that the sky is the limit. With 7 ATP titles and three grand slam quarter-finals, he will undoubtedly make huge additions to these numbers this year. Many more titles and his first grand slam semi-final are surely on the cards in the near future.
While we won’t see a massive leap in his ranking this year, his top-10 status is unlikely to change. If he can continue this high level of tennis and play with the confidence we’ve seen recently, there’s no reason why he won’t be one of the top players in 2021. One thing is for sure: we have only seen a glimpse of what is to come from this talented youngster.
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