Andrey Rublev fought bravely in his four-set defeat to seven-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately, the reality is that the Monte-Carlo champion has now lost all eight of his Grand Slam quarterfinal matches. Rublev is an extremely talented player, whose dangerous brand of tennis has taken him into the Top 10, and he might collect a few more Masters titles to add to his debut title in Monte-Carlo with his current level. But there are a few fatal pitfalls in Rublev’s game that have let him down time and time again at the highest level of the latter stages of a Grand Slam. What needs to be improved is discussed below.
Four Things Andrey Rublev Must Change To Challenge For Grand Slams
1. Improving his weak second serve
Rublev’s second serve has gotten slightly better, and it was not as much of a liability as usual against Djokovic. But even on a good day it is below the level of most other players at the top of tennis. On a bad day it is the most attackable second serve in the top ten of the men’s game by a distance. It is common to see graphics during Rublev’s matches showing nearly all of his second serves landing near the centre of the box, at an average speed between 80 and 90 miles per hour. The eight-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist had the third most aces on Tour this season before Wimbledon began, showing he has one of the best first serves in men’s tennis. He could cause a serious challenge to the best players in the world with his serve if he can adequately improve his second delivery.
2. Adding a good slice to stay in the rallies better
Rublev’s backhand is certainly the weaker of his two groundstrokes, with his forehand being one of the best in the game. His backhand is solid most of the time. But even the best players are sometimes faced with shots that are simply too hot to handle. But the 13-time ATP title winner usually still tries to hit a flat or topspin two-handed backhand even on balls where it is extremely difficult to control. This leads to him giving away unnecessary cheap points to his opponent without making them play an extra shot, something particularly damaging against the top players.
It seems clear Rublev feels he has to do this because he does not trust his slice backhand. It often floats high over the net, sitting up ideally for his opponent. The slice is a shot that needs to be improved and added to his game more consistently. It would help to give him a better chance to work himself back into rallies more consistently to bring his powerful groundstrokes into play at a more opportune moment. This would help on grass in particular, and would have been of use in his quarterfinal against Djokovic.
3. Developing his net game
Rublev relies heavily on his forehand to finish rallies. This is understandable since his forehand is one of the best as I have already mentioned. However, opponents of Rublev are helped by his hesitancy to move forward, and his lack of confidence at the net when he does get there. Those facing Rublev can float their defensive shots over the net, knowing it is unlikely they will be met by a rush and finish at the net. Therefore the world #7 often tries to put away balls landing near the baseline due to opponents knowing he will not mix up his game. Rublev does finish the point from the back of the court more often than not such is his immense ability. But against the top players the few balls he does miss can be crucial.
If Rublev improves his net game and even uses it just a few more times a match, it will instil doubt in his opponents. They will be unsure whether they can float a difficult ball back into the court, or if they’ll need to keep the ball lower and take a bigger risk. That will draw more errors due to the 19-time ATP finalist having a more rounded and complete game.
4. Being more patient and picking his moments
Rublev’s talents from the back of the court are in no doubt, but sometimes it feels like he slightly overestimates his own abilities despite what a great player he already is. Often in rallies where and his opponent are already hitting the ball with high intensity, the 25-year-old will elect to try and hit the ball even harder, leaking some unnecessary unforced errors. It seems like he sometimes gets sucked in by the moment and becomes too desperate to try and win a battle of strength rather than reigning himself in and considering what is the best percentage play. Against the top players especially, Rublev thinks he needs to be even more aggressive out of fear he will not withstand longer rallies and gives away cheap points. Although I acknowledge he has an aggressive style led by his powerful forehand, he is guilty of pressing too much. This has been viewed in many of his quarterfinal losses, including the most recent against Djokovic. Rublev can be aggressive whilst also being smart and believing in himself to hold his nerve and wait for the right ball rather than a low percentage one.
I am a huge fan of Andrey Rublev. He is an outstanding player already with a career 99% of tennis players would be jealous of. This article is not seeking to belittle him. It is only pinpointing how he can improve his already excellent level to give himself a genuinely realistic chance of winning a Grand Slam. He still has much time to do it at the age of 25. I sincerely hope he does.
Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports