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Andrey Rublev interview: “Sometimes I watch videos and think: ‘what am I doing?’
In an exclusive interview with Tennis Majors, Andrey Rublev shares his feelings on dealing with pressure, working with Fernando Vicente and the improvements he needs to make to take the next step
The 24-year-old from Moscow triumphed in Marseille, Dubai and Belgrade, and reached the semi-finals in Rotterdam and Indian Wells, taking his record for the season to 23-5.
In an exclusive interview conducted during the Serbia Open, Rublev discussed various topics, including what makes his coach Fernando Vicente an ideal fit, why he plays doubles sometimes, how he likes to be coached, why he considers clay-court tennis to be “the real tennis”.
Note: The interview was conducted the day after Rublev spoke about Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarussian players from this year’s event. The world No 8 said everything he wanted to about it in that press conference.
“I cannot allow myself to waste time and energy on the nonsense I sometimes do, it is better to focus on the game itself and to fight for every ball.”
How would you sum up your season so far? There have been some glowing moments and other moments less so.
“The beginning of the year was rough because I went to Australia straight after having Covid, which was not easy. Also, I felt pressure and handled it poorly, so I was not able to perform well. From then, things took a turn for the better and I had a great run of four tournaments in a row. The Miami loss (to Kyrgios 6-3 6-0) was disappointing, but stuff like that happens occasionally. For me, the most important thing is to keep working and to keep the right attitude and mood in practice.”
You have mentioned pressure. How do you deal with it?
“Actually, I do not know how to deal with it. Maybe it would be better if you ask this question to Novak, Rafa and Roger, they are the ones with the real pressure.”
Still, you are No 8 in the world, it’s not like it’s nothing…
“That is true, but I still feel it cannot be compared to what the Big 3 must be feeling. Pressure is part of our job and it will always be like that. For me, the best solution is to not think about it at all. Once I start to think about it, it just adds more stress. We have to accept it like we accept the different conditions on the court: sometimes it is sunny, sometimes it is windy…
“You will find pressure in every part of the sport. For instance, when you are a higher-ranked player and everybody expects you to win, sometimes you get tight on a crucial point because you feel that you have to win. Or when people think that winning is easy: ‘Oh, he is Novak Djokovic, of course he is going to win the title’.”
Since 2013, you have been working with Fernando Vicente. What is it that you look for in a coach, what do you like about Fernando?
“I like everything about him! Compared to some of the other coaches, he knows what real tennis is, he experienced it (Vicente was world No 29 back in 2000). He knows whether I am making the smart decisions on the court, which many coaches do not see.
“Apart from that, he is super humble and fun to be around. He cracks jokes all the time and has a knack for relaxing the atmosphere, taking the tension out of the room. We have a great connection on a personal level. I respect him and I listen to him. Outside the court, we are like family, which I feel only a handful of players can say about their coaches.”
How do you like to be coached? For instance, after a tough loss, do you like to talk it over straight away or to wait for a day?
“Whatever suits Fernando best. I am easy maintenance – I can talk after the match or I can wait a day or two. With Fernando, each time it is different. I think that he firstly sees how pissed I am. If I am very angry, then he waits. If I am not, he can be straightforward right off the bat. Like I said, it is different each time.”
You’ve been playing doubles here and there, usually with a Russian partner. I’m curious if you play doubles for fun, for practice, for Davis Cup preparation, that kind of thing? And the second part of the question: earlier this year, you won the title in Marseille with (Ukrainian) Denys Molchanov. Have you known him for a long time? How did that come about? And do you have a good relationship with him? (this question was asked in a press conference by Ana Mitrić on behalf of Tennis Majors)
“There are many (reasons) why I’m playing doubles. One of them, from, I think, 2019 or 2020 until the Olympic games, I was playing with Karen (Khachanov) to prepare (for Tokyo), as much as we can to be able to play better together. Also, (that preparation) is at the same time for the Davis Cup. Then, sometimes, when I’m at a tournament and it’s not a Grand Slam—let’s say, like here—sometimes I’m playing doubles to have practice, to get used to the conditions, especially if it’s grass. Let’s say my first grass tournament, I would like to have one extra match before my main match in singles. So, in this type of situation, I play doubles. In general, sometimes maybe I don’t feel well with volleys or serves. If there is one week I can play doubles just to try to work on it, to improve—because it’s one thing playing in practice and a whole other thing playing in a match.
“And about Denys, I’ve known him for a long, long time because when I started my career, when I was playing Futures or Challengers, he was also playing there. There was a group of us and I was the youngest one, they took me in. So, I was there with them, practicing often. We won, actually, even before – I think 2015 – we won one Challenger together. And this year, we played doubles together and we won the tournament; and I feel really, really happy for him because I know that it means a lot to him. We have a great connection and friendship, because like I said, I’ve known him since the beginning of my journey in tennis and they (him and other guys) were always taking care of me—because they were quite (a lot) older than me. They were kind of like older brothers to me.”
You have been emotional on the court since you started playing tennis. Do you ever watch your videos yelling or biting your hand? A lot of people find it funny and they love you for it.
“Hopefully, it is not the only thing people love about my game, haha. Yes, sometimes I watch videos and I think ‘what am I doing?’ I am trying to eradicate those things from my game. I want to be more professional and more positive on the court. I feel like that is what I am missing in order to reach the next level.”
That is exactly what I wanted to ask you. In order to take the next step, especially in the Grand Slams, what is it that you need to work on?
“The mental aspect of the game. What we just mentioned – I cannot allow myself to waste time and energy on the nonsense I sometimes do, it is better to focus on the game itself and to fight for every ball.
“Game-wise, there are details I need to work on. I need to develop a better feel so that I can return more balls in the court, slicing for instance. Some players do not play aggressively, but they give you balls that are pretty difficult to attack – sometimes, I lack those kinds of shots in my game.
“Furthermore, I need to have more confidence coming forward. There are a lot of rallies where I get a shorter ball and I do not come to the net because I am uncertain. Or I do come, but you can see I do not feel that comfortable. I need to break that barrier in my head because I feel I can get more points that way.
“Also, I need for my second serve to be faster. It would be a huge advantage, since it would be harder to break me. In part, that is mental as well, because in practice I hit second serves harder and I rarely make double faults. But in the match, when I feel pressure, sometimes I am afraid to go for it, particularly when it is 30–30 or break point or advantage. Then I just push the ball in order to start the point. I need to say to myself ‘just do it’. “
You have had success on both clay and hardcourts. On which surface do you consider yourself to be the best player?
“I am not sure, as I have had great results on clay and hard, I have even played one final on grass last year. I like indoors too, so it is a positive that I can play well on all surfaces. Still, I consider clay court tennis to be the real tennis because you need stamina and fitness, and you need to be tactically smart. On clay, if you do things the right way, usually you win. On grass, sometimes you can do things the right way and still lose because the opponent is serving tremendously and makes a crazy return or two in the key moments. Something like that cannot happen on clay, so I feel that on clay the results are more just, in a way.”
What are your goals until the end of the year?
“I just want to fix all of those things we have spoken about.”
So, no goals in terms of results?