Interview: Rublev keeping the faith

A watershed Masters 1000 triumph has lifted a weight from the world No.7's shoulders

Andrey Rublev, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Tennis and boxing might share little in common on the surface, but as one-on-one pursuits a parallel in mentality, strategising alone in the heat of battle, emerges.

The son of a former professional in the ring, Andrey Rublev discovered this from an early age, sparring in a boxing gym.

While he ultimately chose racquets and re-grips over gloves and mouthguards to shape his career, a famous quote from boxing great Muhammad Ali was still applicable to the 25-year-old’s recent breakthrough when he landed a first Masters 1000 trophy in Monte-Carlo.

“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself,” Ali said.

Rublev was the first to admit silencing self-doubt was a fight in itself for any athlete but the belief he could land the biggest title of his career never dissipated.

It held him in good stead for his return to Paris.

Changes to his team, including adding the likes of former Spanish player Alberto Martin to assist his long-time coach Fernando Vicente, reaped rewards when he denied Holger Rune in the final on the French Riviera in April.

Andrey Rublev, Roland-Garros 2023 practice© Philippe Montigny/FFT

“It was a really special feeling. I was not expecting it at all and I was in the moment, I enjoyed a lot,” Rublev told of his Monte-Carlo triumph. “It gives me a lot of confidence outside of tournaments after the beginning of the season when I changed a lot of things like the team.

“I was feeling that now I'm doing much better things on practices and this is probably the reward that I was looking for.

“Obviously I was feeling that I'm doing better but on tournaments, there were like ups and downs. With the result of Monte-Carlo you have more confidence that this was the right way and you now feel even more, you do it completely without doubt. You want to do it even better, more quality.”

It was the beginning of a nine-match winning streak on the terre battue in Europe, where he finished runner-up a week later as defending champion in Banja Luka, Bosnia.

Andrey Rublev entraînement Roland-Garros 2023©Philippe Montigny / FFT

A quarter-finalist in Paris in two of the past three years, the seventh seed cut a particularly dejected figure 12 months ago after he bowed to Marin Cilic in a five-set thriller.

This year he may well need to pass third seed Novak Djokovic to break his Grand Slam quarter-final duck.

No mean feat, given he snared just seven games from the Serb at that stage in Melbourne this year.

“I was doing so many already these kind of comments, ‘oh s---’ (I have a bad draw to) ‘now I have a good draw, this is the moment’,” Rublev said. “All of them fell apart, so I just let it go.”

His relationship with Paris, he joked, was complicated ahead of his first-round clash with Laslo Djere.

“I don't know, a bit toxic,” he grinned. “I have really great memories in Paris and I have really tough memories that were lessons for me, so we will see but in general I enjoy always outside the tournament.”

While no stranger to wearing his heart on his sleeve on court, it was not until recent years that the affable Rublev let a cheekier, more open side show when the cameras were fixed on him off court.

Now comparatively less guarded, he admitted his coach had played a role in helping is personality shine through.

“Yeah I think Fernando, he make a lot of influence on me because at the beginning I was quite shy thinking in front of the camera maybe it's not good to be yourself because people will get to know you, so it's like you don't want this,” he said.

“With Fernando I learned it's better to be yourself and then if they don't like you at least it's because of who you are, not because you're trying to be someone else.”

Andrey Rublev, Roland-Garros 2023© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT