Rublev shocks Rafa in Monte-Carlo

Russian matches the biggest win of his career to move into the semi-finals.

Nadal Rublev Monte-Carlo 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

The first words uttered by Andrey Rublev after pulling off an incredible two-and-a-half-hour victory over Rafael Nadal in the Monte-Carlo quarter-finals were statements of admiration towards his Spanish opponent.

Rublev had just come through a brutal 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 battle with the 11-time Monte-Carlo champion to record his first win over Nadal in three meetings and instead of describing his own performance or celebrating the occasion, his first instinct was to reflect on the Mallorcan’s mental strength and longevity at the top of the sport.

“I can’t imagine how to be in the situation of Rafa, knowing you’re the best player on clay and you have that pressure every time, I think for him it must be incredibly tough every time,” the Russian world No.8 said after equalling the best win of his career, by ranking. .

“I’m in shock the way he’s playing under this pressure and that’s why he’s a legend. It’s easy to play when you have nothing to expect, but in his position when you have to win, on clay courts especially, and he’s doing this every time, it’s amazing.”

It was a gracious moment from Rublev, who has long admired Nadal and who on Friday showed many qualities on the court that are typically associated with the Spanish legend he has idolised from a young age.

En route to his first semi-final in Monte-Carlo, Rublev overcame Roberto Bautista Agut in three gruelling sets on Thursday, before halting a Nadal comeback for a narrow victory a day later.

Andrey on a roll

There is a reason why no player has won more matches than Rublev on the men’s tour this season, and it’s been obvious so far this week. The 23-year-old Russian has kept his emotions in check, has been fighting for every point like his life depended on it, and has been clutch at key moments – something he has surely developed from amassing 23 wins against just four losses so far this year.

He saved 8/12 break points against Nadal on Friday, struck 23 winners and didn’t lose his cool after squandering opportunities to go up a double-break in the second set and allowing Nadal to force a decider.

“I would say this week I am controlling really well my emotions,” said Rublev, who will take on Norwegian Rafa Nadal Academy player Casper Ruud for a spot in his first Masters 1000 final.

“At the end that's the key. Especially with Roberto, if I would let myself show a bit of emotion, I would lose for sure yesterday because he was winning with a break. He had break points for second break. Second set he was winning a double break. Third set I was up with a break and he come back. If I would show a bit emotion, for sure I would lose.

“Same thing today with Rafa. If after the second set I would say something or if I would show emotions, for sure the third set will be over, will be 6-2 for him.

“So I'm happy that I could handle it.”

Andrey Rublev Monte-Carlo ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

‘My serve was a disaster’

For Nadal, it looked obvious that he was contesting just his second tournament of the season, compared to Rublev, who is playing in his seventh.

The world No.3 gave credit to Rublev but also rued his “disaster” serving performance, which saw him strike seven double faults and get broken seven times throughout the match.

“When you face great player like him and you don't play well, you should lose, no? That's easy to analyse,” confessed the 13-time Roland-Garros champion.  

“For some reason I had problems with my serve. I don't understand why because I was not having problems on the practices at all. But today was one of these days that my serve was a disaster.

“Serving like this, the serve creates an impact on the rest of the game. When you serve with no confidence, you are just focus on try to serve, not think about how you want to play the ball. You just think about what you have to do with the serve to put the ball in. Then you have problems continue and prepare the point the right way, no?

“Easy: he played well, he deserve more than me. I fighted, yeah. That's the positive thing, I was there. But you can't expect win against a player like him losing my serve I don't know how many times, but too many. No chance like this. Six, seven times? It's too much.”

Next stop: Barcelona

Nadal, who was playing for the first time since his semi-final exit at the Australian Open in February, admits it is “sad” to bid farewell to Monte-Carlo in the quarter-finals but the 34-year-old already knows what he needs to work on in order to be ready for Roland-Garros next month.

“I can't complain. It's not the moment to complain. When you are not able to do the things you had to do on the court, then is not the moment to complain after, no?” said Nadal.

“The only thing that I can do is go to Barcelona and keep practicing, keep practicing, try to fix the things that didn't work well. I think my backhand today was not enough well. Lots of mistakes. I was not able to open the court with my backhand then.

“Yeah, is small things that I know, and difficult to explain. A few things that make a big, big difference on the result and on my game that I was not able to make it today.”