Rublev finds the path to Marseille final, in the absence of his best level
Andrey Rublev will play his first final of the 2022 season in Marseille. But he still lacks the consistency that he possessed a year ago.
“We’ll see “. The injunction, pronounced with a sly, wait-and-see smile, was used by Andrey Rublev in almost all of his responses after qualifying for the Open 13 final in Marseille.
The Russian sums up the lesson of his semi-final victory against Benjamin Bonzi (6-3, 4-6, 6-3): no, Rublev is still not at his best, but yes, he will play another final on the circuit, his first in 2022, and that’s most important. This confirms him in his status as the seventh best player in the world and seeded number 2, here in Marseille as in Dubai next week, in the upper category of the ATP 500.
Rublev was the last member of the ATP top-9 not to have played in a title round this season, excluding Novak Djokovic, who did not play in any tournament, and excluding Jannik Sinner, who just fired the six members of his staff.
First final since August 2021 for Rublev
Marseille will be Rublev’s first final on the circuit since Cincinnati in August 2021. He lost it to a then-peaking Zverev, and he hasn’t won a trophy for almost a year. Last week at the ATP 500 in Rotterdam, Rublev lost the plot in the semi-final against Felix Auger-Aliassime (6-7, 6-4, 6-2).
“But I ended the 2021 season on a good note with the Davis Cup victory,” he observed.
In December, however, with four wins in five singles, including a defeat against the 106th in the world Feliciano Lopez and a major upset narrowly avoided against Elias Ymer, 171st at the ATP, Rublev had left the same impression of a player still in search of his best tennis.
“He can have a lot of waste and shaky moments in matches.”Benjamin Bonzi on Andrey Rublev
Beaten by Rublev on Saturday, Bonzi sums up the general feeling quite well: “He can have a lot of waste and sort of blank moments in matches,” said the Frenchman. “He puts so much energy into every strike that at times his level drops a bit.”
Observation confirmed in each of the Russian’s three rounds in Marseille, each time against a Frenchman who felt the good shot possible thanks to the help of the public: Gasquet (4-6, 6-3, 7-6), Pouille (6 -3, 1-6, 6-2) and Bonzi.
“Richard deserved to win,” said Rublev about his battle against Gasquet, who closed to within two points from the winning match.
Rublev: what matters is to not get too low
There remains the reality of the competition: at each end of the somewhat tense meeting, Rublev engaged in arm wrestling and emerged victorious. The famous refuse-to-lose attitude that characterizes the players of his pedigree. It is his quest, he observes.
“What I’m looking for is to give myself the means to progress every week. The season is long, it makes sense to have highs and lows, and what matters to me is that the lows are not…too low.”
His 2022 season breaks with his second half of 2021, in the most favorable sense. Despite a disappointing Australian Open third round loss to Marin Cilic, Rublev so far has a record of eight wins and two losses – both against the only Top 30 players he has faced, Cilic. therefore, and Auger-Aliassime.
Grand Slam breakthrough still yet to come
By indicating that he had played “five, maybe six tournaments only” after Cincinnati in 2021 – seven in fact, not counting the Laver Cup and the Davis Cup – the Russian gave the impression of wanting to erase from his recent memory those few months of doubt, with 8 wins and 8 losses (including two eliminations in the first round) before the Davis Cup. Among his executioners: Frances Tiafoe, Cameron Norrie, Tommy Paul, Adrian Mannarino, Botic van de Zandschulp, Taylor Fritz, all outside the Top 25 at the time.
Rublev has not had a winning streak consistent with his rankings since his title in Cincinnati when he notably dominated Cilic, Monfils and especially Medvedev on his journey. This explains this same caution about his level of play: “It’s not really easy to know where you are when you play indoors. The opponents serve well, so the exchanges do not last so long, and it gives less cues than when you play outside.”
The return to the outdoors next week, in Dubai – he will face Dan Evans in the first round – then in Indian Wells and Miami will quickly fix him. Rublev must defend the points from his semi-final in Miami and his final in Monte-Carlo, which represent a quarter of his ranking points, before his status as a top player is solidified at Roland-Garros.
Rublev has not reached the quarter-finals of any of the last four Grand Slams he has played in and is the highest-ranked player to never reach a major semi-final. Whether he finds the taste of victory in tournaments in Marseille or not, he knows where the real challenge lies.