Andrey Rublev has now reached seven Grand Slam quarterfinals. That is a solid achievement for a player yet to celebrate his 26th birthday. Unfortunately, he has lost all six that he has played and it is hard to see a different outcome the seventh time around. The reason: he will be facing world #5 (and nine-time Australian Open champion) Novak Djokovic. The pair met most recently in November at the ATP Finals, where the Serb prevailed 6-4 6-1 and a similar result looks likely this time around.
Djokovic is fresh from hammering Australia’s Alex de Minaur, laying his injury worries to rest as he lost just five games to the 22nd seed. Djokovic’s attacking qualities can sometimes be overlooked so well does he cover the court, but his display in the last 16 was a blistering reminder of what he can do whenn he chooses to step in and dictate. Perhaps, his hamstring injury saw him modify his game plan, perhaps he just wanted to let loose and swing freely.
Whatever the cause, the performance was immaculate as he struck 26 winners, did not concede a single break point and won 52% of the points against de Minaur’s first serve. Rublev, by way of contrast, was made to work very hard to overcome Holger Rune. It was an impressive display of determination and resilience to hang tough and eventually overcome the Dane, but it also could easily have gone the otherway with a lucky netcord deep into a fifth-set tiebreak ultimately the difference.
Make no mistake, it was a superb match, but it is also quite possible that Rune would have provided Djokovic with a sterner test. After all, he did beat the Serbian from a set down in the final at the Paris Masters last year in one of the matches of the year. Rublev has also beaten Djokovic, but that win came on the clay in Belgrade. Both of their hard-court matches have ended in comprehensive wins for Djokovic.
It’s not that difficult to see why. Rublev’s strengths are mostly his consistency and his ability to overpower opponents, chiefly with his forehand. Against Djokovic, that almost certainly won’t be enough. He feeds on big-hitters and typically neutralises them with relative ease. To get the better of the Serbian, Rublev will need a Plan B, but there hasn’t really been any sign that he has one. Not just this fortnight, but over his whole career. That’s the major reason his record in Major quarterfinals stands at 0-6.
A decent serve (he struck 22 aces against Rune), a powerful forehand and a handy backhand suffice against the majority of the tour, but not the very best. Not Djokovic on his favourite court in his favourite conditions. De Minaur found that out the hard way, with the Australian admitting that Djokovic’s played like ‘like on another level’ to de Minaur, who was ‘just trying to hang on’. De Minaur continued, stating ‘at the start he was very solid, then he loosened up even more and started swinging. It felt like he could hit winners from every place on the court. I didn’t really know what to do’.
Rublev should be more competitive, but it would be the surprise of the tournament so far if this match ended with Rublev reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal rather than Djokovic sealing a spot in his 44th.
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