Rublev: The further you think, the faster you crash

Seventh seed is not looking too far ahead as he hopes to conquer his on-court demons

Andrey Rublev, Roland Garros 2022, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

In the Inner Game of Tennis, perhaps the most famous book ever written about the sport, the author talks about a player’s two selves; self one, which is responsible for hitting the ball, and self two, which is the inner voice, sometimes helpful, often overly critical.

Silencing self two in order to allow self one to play without interference is the key to success.

It is a dilemma Andrey Rublev knows only too well, the No.7 seed constantly walking a fine line between playing with calm and letting his temper get the better of him.

He reached the last 16 at Roland-Garros on Saturday with a four-set win over Cristian Garin of Chile but for much of the match, he was on the edge.

So how does he tell himself to calm down?

“Just shut up if you want to win,” Rublev told after booking a fourth-round meeting with Jannik Sinner.

“Because if you keep getting frustrated, I don't know, like with (Federico) Delbonis in the end of the second set (in the second round), Kwon (Soon-woo) after the first set (in the first round) or like even today against Cristian after the second set, I have no chance to beat these guys.

“So it's your choice. You want to win? Shut up. If you want to lose, keep going.”

Andrey Rublev, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Messieurs, 3eme TourNicolas Gouhier / FFT

It sounds simple, but for Rublev, it’s a constant battle. After breaking in the first game against Garin, he held the advantage easily to take the opening set but then dropped the second as his level dipped, only to recover in time to win the next two sets for a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (11) victory.

“There were still up and downs,” explained Rublev, who was a quarter-finalist in Paris in 2020.

“Some moments I played well, some moments I drop the level and Cristian, some moments were also a bit more down, but in some moments he was playing really, really high level. And that's it, it was more about these details. Who was more focused, who was more consistent.”

A four-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist, Rublev is still seeking that big breakthrough, having watched his peers excel, in particular his friend, Daniil Medvedev, who won his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.

Powerful on both wings, Rublev plays Italy’s Sinner for a place in the last eight again. He knows what he needs to do.

“Again, I think (it’s about) emotions,” he said. “When I'm more calm, I start playing much better, start to play much more free and straightaway the ball goes double faster, I play smarter,” he said. “So it's more about this.

“The problem is, yeah, there are some moments that when I'm doing this really well for some amount of time, then it can be that I drop this mood and then I start to play a bit different. So I need to have more consistency in this.”

Though Rublev beat Novak Djokovic to win the title in Belgrade last month, his clay-court season was mixed, with early defeats in Monte Carlo and Rome and a quarter-final in Madrid.

Arriving in Paris, he didn’t’ know what to expect.

“Before the tournament I was just hoping that I will fight every match,” he said. “I don't want to expect nothing, I don't want to look forward and we'll see what's going to happen.

“If I need to win all the matches in four sets to be in second week, perfect. If I need to win all matches in five sets to be in the second week, I will win in five sets. I didn't expect anything. I just wanted to do my best and I'm happy to be in the second week.”

Andrey Rublev, Roland Garros 2022, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Drawn in the other half to Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz, Rublev’s path to the final is clear of Grand Slam champions, other than Medvedev, whom he could meet in the last eight.

The temptation is to think this could be a big opportunity to make the breakthrough but Rublev, at 24, is wise enough to know that’s not worth even thinking about.

“Of course, you think that maybe it's a good scenario, but sometimes the further you think, the faster you crash,” he said. “So I try to block these things. I try to block this thinking and to focus on the first match this way. I don't like to look in the draw. Don’t get excited or get frustrated because everything can happen and you just need to go match by match."

But having not yet made a semi-final, he’s not about to get ahead of himself, not least since Sinner has won their only two completed matches, both of them on clay.

“He knows me really well, I know him really well,” Rublev said. “So we'll see. I hope that we can show great match. I hope I will show great level and that's it. I will do my best to fight till the end and then we'll see.”

Keeping that inner voice quiet, as always, is the key.