Rublev rattled as Struff lands biggest Slam win

 - Dan Imhoff

Seventh-seeded Russian ponders missed opportunities in three-hour, 46-minute epic

Andrey Rublev, Roland-Garros 2021 first round©️ Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Andrey Rublev's hopes of repeating first-round heroics at Roland-Garros have been dashed courtesy of big-hitting spoiler Jan-Lennard Struff on Tuesday.

Before a boisterous Court 14 crowd on Tuesday, the seventh seed’s comeback from two sets down hit the skids as world No.42 Struff secured his first defeat of a top 10 player at a major 6-3, 7-6(6), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4.

The red clay courts of the Monte-Carlo Country Club last month had given Rublev ample cause to believe his season was about to lift a notch.

There the 23-year-old defeated 11-time champion Rafael Nadal en route to his first Masters 1000 final before running into a red-hot Stefanos Tsitsipas.

In his third Roland-Garros main draw, even when he failed to serve out the second set on Tuesday, there was no reason to panic.

Memories of having surged back from two sets down to deny Sam Querrey at the same stage seven months ago were never far from mind.

“I mean, of course I was thinking that I would like to come back from 2-0, but I don't know, the fifth set I was a bit unlucky,” Rublev said.

“You never know… if it's going to be the same situation the next day, maybe it'll be a different story. Maybe I would save the game and when I would have break points I would make them.”

Having reached the quarter-finals at his past three majors – including Roland-Garros seven months ago – there were hopes the Russian was finally poised to push beyond a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time.

He had not fallen before the fourth round at a Grand Slam since Wimbledon two years ago, but was now left to weigh up time off to replenish his reserves or switch his focus to the grass.

“I was feeling fine, I was practising well, I don't know,” Rublev said. “I think we played a good level today. It's not easy. He's a really tough opponent for the first round, really tough, plus he's playing better and better. He's improving and he's winning really great matches.

“I don't know yet [what is next]. Now even myself, I don't know what to do now. I didn't speak yet with my team, so from there we'll make a decision.”

The 193cm Struff, in his 30th major, had claimed only one of his past eight tour-level clashes against top-10 foes.

Against the relentless Rublev, he clocked 25 aces and cleaned up 30 points at the net for his biggest Grand Slam upset after three hours and 46 minutes.

“I played Andrey twice this year, lost twice in three sets, played twice a very good first set but couldn't get the job done,” Struff said.

“Definitely it's a huge win for me in a Grand Slam against a top-10 player. Yeah, very, very important.”

Beyond having tested Rublev already this season, a career-best result on home soil last month pointed to bigger things on the horizon for the German.

Twelve years after he turned professional, he reached his first tour-level final in Munich where he snapped a seven-match losing streak in semi-finals.

“I was not playing that great after Australia,” said Struff, whose best major showing came at Roland-Garros two years ago when he made the fourth round.

“I started the year pretty well in ATP Cup and had some not-that-good matches I would say. I tried before Munich to [take] some days off and tried to refocus and practised at home for one week, had a very good practice week and was very happy that I could reach my first final on home soil.

Jan-Lennard Struff, Roland Garros 2021, first round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

“Unfortunately I lost to a very good-playing Niko Basilashvili. The last tournaments were OK. I lost to Rublev, but yeah, this victory means a lot for me.”

It took Struff 20 Grand Slam main draw attempts to pass the second round, which he did so at Wimbledon three years ago.

Now he has the chance to it a sixth time when he next meets Argentine Facundo Bagnis.