If there’s one thing Andrey Rublev says he has learned over the years, it’s the importance of being honest with himself.
The Russian tennis star is proud of the tremendous progress he has made over the past three seasons, rising from 100 in the rankings at the start of 2019 to his current career-high No.5. But he’s also more than happy to get candid when discussing the tougher part of his journey so far, ready to face his demons head on, even if he has yet to figure out a way to conquer them all.
“In my case, it’s super tough because I’m a really emotional person,” Rublev told Arab News ahead of his participation in this weekend’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.
“But maybe some other things for me are easier than for another person.
“I think it’s all about being honest with yourself, understanding the reality, accepting when you’re doing things wrong, not finding excuses. That’s the most important thing.”
If you watch Rublev during a practice session, you might often wonder how he could ever lose a tennis match. The 24-year-old brings an outrageous level of intensity to every shot he hits, consistently ripping his forehand with surreal speed.
In 2020, Rublev really hit his stride, scooping five titles and reaching the last-eight stage at the US Open and Roland Garros. The start of his 2021 campaign was equally impressive as he went undefeated to help Russia win the ATP Cup, made a third consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final at Melbourne Park, and clinched an eighth career title in Rotterdam.
He then made back-to-back semi-final appearances in Doha, Dubai and Miami, before featuring in a maiden Masters 1000 final in Monte Carlo. His second half of the year was not as consistent, but he still reached finals in Halle and Cincinnati and made it to the second week at Wimbledon for the first time.
The kids’ clinics are one of the things I like the most about the Abu Dhabi exhibition.
Rublev was a big hit today… pic.twitter.com/IdrTrJ1jYa
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 16, 2021
Rublev says his biggest highlight of the year was securing the Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles alongside Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“It’s something that happens only once in four years, and every athlete dreams about this and works super hard to compete in the Olympics. To win a medal is like a double dream,” he reflected.
“And in the end, when you’re there, maybe you don’t realize it, but then when the moment comes and it’s the final and you make it, it’s a surreal feeling.”
There was more glory for Rublev earlier this month as he wrapped up his lengthy 2021 season by lifting the Davis Cup in Madrid with his Russian teammates.
Still, in a year with many highlights and a career-best ranking, Rublev struggled to find his peak form in the latter stages of the season and crumbled mentally at certain moments. The Muscovite can have stretches where he is simply ruthless, but he can also suffer through mental lapses that end up costing him greatly.
When world No.1 Novak Djokovic faced Rublev for the first time in the ATP Finals in Turin last month, the Serb said he knew his opponent’s weakness and was prepared to exploit it.
“He’s the kind of player if something goes wrong, it’s difficult for him, he makes a lot of unforced errors,” Djokovic said after defeating Rublev in straight sets.
In the same spirit of being honest with himself, Rublev acknowledges that his mental stability during matches is something he needs to work on.
“I know this about myself as well, and he is completely right in this case,” Rublev said when told Djokovic’s assessment of him.
“It always takes time and it’s a process to control your emotions. In my case, it happens that maybe I control my emotions for five matches, but then for the next two or three matches I’m not controlling them.
“I’m doing better and behaving more consistently compared to last year, but if we compare that with the top players, it’s not enough, and that’s why I’m always saying I need to improve this aspect.”
Rublev did not say much about what went wrong for him in the second half of the year but generally described it as a transitional period, like a student who is getting accustomed to university life after recently graduating from high school.
“I learned that, in everything you’re doing, you need to set the right priorities,” he said. “If, for example, my priority is tennis, I need to do what is best for tennis. It doesn’t matter what I feel or how I feel or what the others are going to think about me.”
Rublev is “amazed” that he was able to finish the year ranked No.5 in the world, given he admittedly lost his way for a few months. “I can only be grateful for this,” he added.
He believes the key to making that extra step at the big events and the Grand Slams is to master the mental side of his game.
Looking ahead to 2022, Rublev isn’t setting any concrete targets, but he does have one main goal: “To improve as much as I can and to give my 100 percent from the person I am on that given day,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to be able to say that I gave it my all and do that every day. That’s the main goal.”
Rublev commences his Abu Dhabi campaign on Friday against Denis Shapovalov, before Rafael Nadal takes on Andy Murray in a highly anticipated showdown at Zayed Sports City.