At the age of 16, Andrey Rublev was victorious on the red clay of Roland Garros. The Russian teenager captured the 2014 French Open Juniors title which catapulted him to the top spot in the ITF Junior World Rankings.
That victory would serve as the catalyst to Rublev turning professional and leaving his junior playing days behind, a decision that has worked out quite well eight years later as Rublev has become a mainstay in the Top 10, currently ranked sixth in the world. He heads into this year’s installment of the French Open feeling good about his game and his recent results on clay.
In the clay-court swing leading up to the year’s second major, Rublev secured the biggest victory of his young career when he hoisted the trophy at the Monte Carlo Masters. It was his 13th career title, but the biggest one of his career to date, the first Masters 1000 trophy he has earned.
“I don’t know what to say to be honest. I don’t know,” he said in his post-match interview following the title. “I am just happy, finally. I have been struggling so much to win this freaking Masters 1000 tournament.”
Rublev was alluding to his previous failures in finals of Masters 1000 events, in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati, both in 2021.
“I was hoping deep inside that at least maybe I would have one chance," Rublev said. "Maybe at least try to play until the end. Because I remember the previous finals mentally I was not ready and when I was thinking [I had] no chance to win anymore and I was going mentally completely down. And today I was at least [thinking], 'Okay, if you're going to lose today at least please believe until the end', and that is what I was trying to do in the third set, hoping that maybe I would have one extra chance to come back or something and in the end I was able to do it.”
During that run to the title, he knocked off top 10 players Taylor Fritz, in the semifinals, and Holger Rune, in the championship match. In that final against Rune, Rublev had to fight back from 1-4 down in the deciding third set to claim the title, showing the type of mental fortitude that is required to win big matches.
That signature win could be the precursor to a deep run by Rublev at Roland Garros as he now looks to take the next step in his career. He has established a confidence in himself that he can fight through those adverse moments, and he gives a lot of the credit to his coaching team.
“I like how I’m working now with my new team fitness-wise, treatment-wise, tennis-wise, mental-wise. I feel that this is the right way,” he said when asked if after winning a Masters 1000 title if winning a major was the next goal. “I feel that I can improve a lot. I feel that in practices I’m doing this. The thing is I don’t know when and where it will appear. In the end, I won this title, and the goal is still the same: to work hard and continue going in the right direction. I just want to try to improve as much as I can while I have this time.”
One of those coaching team members is Alberto Martin, a former ATP player who has served as an advisor on Rublev’s team this year. Martin has heaped praise upon Rublev for the kind of person he is off the court, being well-liked by his peers and fans alike, and the necessity to find the balance between being aggressive and intense on the court, but a kind person off it. He often ends his matches by writing messages on the camera that read, “No War”, in regards to his native Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has been an outspoken critic of the war.
As gentle as he is off the court, Rublev has shown a propensity to lose his cool on the court. That was evident during a U.S. Open loss to Frances Tiafoe last year where he destroyed many racquets, including banging his head against the racquet. Earlier in the year, at the French Open, Rublev fired a ball in frustration that nearly hit a court-sweeper. Martin wants to make sure he keeps that fire on the court but not go over the edge into tantrums.
“The priority when working has been finding the balance between being a bit calmer and not going crazy at the slightest opportunity. But he can’t lose the spark that he has that makes him so good or his aggressiveness,” explained Martin. “He is a player who has to play very aggressive, and if he is very passive and just pushes the ball, well, it doesn’t work. And we talked about this with the team, about trying to find this middle ground. And the truth is, I am very happy right now in this regard.”
So as Rublev continues to try and perfect that balance that makes all players great, he sets his sights on the next goals in his career. His attacking style from the baseline works well on clay, and his athletic prowess allows him to glide around the court with ease.
But the key for Rublev is being able to remain consistent throughout a Grand Slam fortnight. His best results at any of the four majors is reaching the quarterfinals, which he has done seven times, three times at the U.S. Open, and twice each at the French Open and U.S. Open.
A year ago, Rublev reached the final eight at Roland Garros, and with his solid play thus far in 2023, he will look to take the next step, and this year’s French Open could be the perfect stage for him to do so.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com