The ATP 500 Dubai Championships continue to enthrall, with two close semifinals that featured a total of four tiebreaks, including yet another major upset in the first half of the draw. Will the rankings finally mean anything? See the pick below…
ATP Dubai Final Prediction
Andrey Rublev vs Jiri Vesely
Head-to-head: first meeting
Yesterday I predicted a Vesely win in the semis on the basis of his recent performance, even though I thought a strict matchup analysis favored Shapovalov. I realize some people may have thought I was falling into the Gambler’s Fallacy; but the Gambler’s Fallacy only applies to numerical probabilities. And while Jiri Vesely may be playing like a machine, he is not governed by mathematical laws. He’s just on fire.
I’m going to write this analysis, but I feel like it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing outside of the past four rounds that would make me pick Vesely. There’s nothing in the last four rounds that completely makes sense. Vesely just seems weirdly unbeatable right now.
How Rublev Can Win
Putting aside the magic of the moment, though, let’s consider how Rublev can win this. He doesn’t figure to get much on the serve, unless Vesely has a particularly poor serving day. Maybe openings will appear on the second serve and Rublev can attack, as he likes to do. That kind of pressure could create mistakes on Vesely’s huge first serve, and Rublev could be in business.
On his own serve, he should expect Vesely to handle his power well. He could look to serve out wide most of the time (to force Vesely to move), and could mix it up with first serves to the body (small adjustments in the face of a fast-moving ball are probably not the big man’s strong suit either). Rublev’s second serve may be a problem, and could leave the door open to big returns from Vesely, and his best bet is probably placing it out wide from the deuce court to Vesely’s backhand (which doesn’t reach well).
Rublev’s Strength in Rallies
Rallies are where Rublev would figure to pull ahead. However, I would have said the same thing about Djokovic. One would expect an opponent to move Vesely around, to get the ball ahead of him for mis-hits and to wear him out. But in order to do that, you have to catch up to his big strokes; and Djokovic was unable to do that. Rublev is very similar to the (former) world #1 in his movement and strokes, and might have the same trouble, but his extra aggression could be the difference in succeeding in this strategy. The opposite approach—hitting at the body—might also be worth a shot.
Vesely’s Path to a Title
Vesely obviously overpowers with his serve, and he could do it again in the Finals. Rublev is susceptible to the big serve; Hurkacz hit 27 (!) aces against him in the semis. The Russian confessed to being tired throughout the tournament, and he won’t be any less tired after another three-setter. It will be interesting to see if Vesely ratchets up his second serve again as he did against Djokovic, trying to get more easy points and keep Rublev out of rallies.
On the other serve, Rublev may have trouble overpowering the big Czech, as he didn’t seem to have any problem with Cilic or Shapovalov, who both have plenty of power. Shapovalov gifted him a whopping 14 double faults, but that may be a testament to how much pressure Vesely was putting on the Canadian’s serve. And Rublev has a vulnerable second serve.
Lastly, when it comes down to the rallies, Vesely’s secret weapon is his backhand. The heavy forehand is obvious, but Rublev would have to go out of his way to hit to it, since Vesely is a lefty. Rublev’s typical rally forehands will be going to Vesely’s backhand, which is deceptively powerful. It has a compact motion that delivers more power than one would expect, and it gave Djokovic a lot of trouble.
An Inevitable Pick
I want to talk about Rublev’s season (he’s 13-2, and playing for a second title already), but it doesn’t seem worth it. I tried that when picking Bautista Agut, and it didn’t turn out very well. (“I could see this one ending quickly,” were my closing thoughts. Indeed. Vesely ended it in 78 minutes.) I said I wasn’t ready to pick against the World #1 in the quarters, and now I’m not ready to pick against his then-opponent. I wised up and chose the Czech against my matchup analysis in the semis, and he didn’t disappoint.
So never mind Rublev’s season. Never mind his Top 10 ranking. Never mind his title and his youth and his energy. Vesely is stomping statistics, disrupting world rankings, and crushing everything in his path, without explanation.
Good luck, Andrey.
Prediction: Vesely in 3
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