Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev stunned seven-time champion Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati for his second Top 5 victory in as many months.
The 21-year-old Rublev, No. 70 in the ATP Rankings after injury woes the past two seasons, pounded Federer’s backhand with a barrage of all-in forehands and never slowed down, breaking the third seed three times for the match.
“It’s my biggest and the most emotional win,” Rublev said. “The true champion and legend he is… I can’t imagine every day how much pressure you have. I mean, to know that you’re Roger and everybody is watching you and you need to prove it every day, and he’s doing this, I don’t know for how many years. I mean, this is something, I don’t know, unreal.”
On serving for the match, Rublev said, “You start shaking another level. In my head I was just trying to [say] don’t look at my team, don’t look at the score, don’t look at Roger. I just tried to be more relaxed. And in the end it works.”
Although the Russian displayed flawless judgment with his shotmaking on Stadium Court, a mental error earlier in the tournament almost kept him out of the qualifying draw. “I forgot to sign up for this tournament. So basically I was not even supposed to play here,” said Rublev. “And then I signed up for an alternate spot and I got in qualifying.
“The first match, I got lucky that Bernard Tomic retired. Then I beat Mikhail Kukushkin and Nikoloz Basilashvili. Kukushkin, I lost to three times. Basilashvili, I lost to twice this year. And then I beat two legends like Stan Wawrinka and Roger. It’s amazing.”
Federer tried bringing Rublev forward but the Russian delivered volleys with newfound touch. The Swiss sprinted to net more often, but his usual reliable volleys were lacking. Federer won only 37 per cent of his net points (7/19).
Rublev’s Road Back From The Sofa
The 62-minute defeat was Federer’s fastest in more than 16 years, since his 54-minute defeat against Franco Squillari in the first round of 2003 Sydney. (No times are available for Davis Cup matches and 2000 and 2004 Olympic matches.)
“He was super clean. Defence, offence, serving well. Didn’t give me anything. He was everywhere. So it was tough for me, but excellent match by him. I was impressed,” Federer said.
Rublev, who twice competed at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, is through to his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final and will meet Coupe Rogers finalist and countryman Daniil Medvedev for a place in the semi-finals. Medvedev eased past Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-2, 6-1 to reach his third consecutive quarter-final.
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It’s always happens. Some results happens on different surface. And every time I say I like more hard, I do bad results on clay. Every time I say I like more clay, I do bad results on hard. Looks like for the moment I can play good on all surfaces, which is good.
Looking ahead to the all-Russian quarter-final with Medvedev, Rublev said, “We are good friends and we know each other quite well since kids. I mean, it’s going to be interesting match, interesting match for Russia. He’s now No. 1 [Russian], so I have no pressure. Last time we played was three or four years ago and he beat me easily. So tomorrow is gonna be all the pressure on him.”
For Rublev, this type of run has been at least three years in the making. In 2017, he won his first ATP Tour title in Umag and made the US Open quarter-finals, becoming the youngest quarter-finalist there since Andy Roddick in 2001. Rublev then reached the title match of the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals (l. to Chung).
He reached a career-high of No. 31 in the ATP Rankings in February 2018. But a lower back stress fracture forced him to miss three months last season and a wrist injury kept him out of Roland Garros and the start of the grass-court season this year. His results reflected his lack of consistent matchplay.
But last month, the Russian began to return to his 2017 level, making his first ATP 500 final (l. to Basilashvili) at the Hamburg European Open and beating No. 4 Dominic Thiem along the way.
Beating Federer in Cincinnati, however, is an entirely different occasion. The tournament is his most successful Masters 1000 event (seven titles, 47-10). But Rublev never looked in awe of the 38-year-old, breaking Federer in his first service game.
Federer broke right back, but Rublev added another break, one that he wouldn’t let go of for the remainder of the opener. The Russian was setting up on his backhand side, pounding forehands to Federer’s backhand, and the Swiss was unable to escape the pattern and get out of the corner despite various attempts. Rublev was nearly perfect from the net as well (5/6).
He broke again in the seventh game of the second and never cooled off. Despite going for his characteristically big groundstrokes all match, the Russian finished with only six unforced errors, compared to 19 for Federer.