02:51 AM GMT November 12, 2017
Andrey Rublev had an incredible 2017 season, soaring from No. 156 in the Emirates ATP Rankings to as high as 35th. The 20-year-old Russian became the youngest player since Andy Roddick in 2001 to reach the US Open quarter-finals, beating two Nitto ATP Finals qualifiers (Dimitrov, Goffin) along the way. Add on winning his first ATP World Tour title in Umag and earning the top seed at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, and you’d think his season could not have gone much better.
But it could have. The aggressive right-hander had a chance to claim his second title Saturday evening at the Fiera Milano, where Rublev found his game early against Hyeon Chung, who had defeated him in straight sets earlier in the week. The Russian was up a set and 3-1 against the South Korean, who had played five-setters the previous two days. Would he have another five-setter in him?
Chung didn’t have to find out, as Rublev momentarily lost his focus. From being within two points of a two-set lead to falling in four sets was a massive swing, which was not caused by a talent discrepancy.
“I was playing much better than him. I was, like you said, dictating the match, and then just because I get — I let my emotion go out and everything changed,” Rublev said. “From a little thing, I just lost my control and that's it. I just lost because of my head.”
Rublev truly had an outstanding campaign. But it takes one look at his final match of the year to know that he still has room to grow. He admitted that while he let his level slip, Chung stayed the course throughout the match and the tournament — a difference of consistency. If the #NextGenATP Russian could stabilize his game, his level can climb to even further heights.
“Mentally he's really strong. No matter what, he never gives up. He always fighting. If he feel he's losing, he’s still always there. He never complains. He never shows emotion,” Rublev said of Chung, who earned his first ATP World Tour title. “That's why most of the time he wins tough matches. When the matches are close, he always wins, because mentally, no matter what, he always there. That's what's happened to me with us today. I was playing better, I was controlling the match, but in one point I let my emotion go out, and when he was losing he was still focused. And that's it.”
Nevertheless, the youngest player in the Top 50 has come a long way. Rublev has already made strides in the right direction.
“I understand that I have to change, and I agree. I will try to do my best,” Rublev said. “I think even if you compare me in the beginning of the year, still I'm much better. Mentally I'm much better. I'm controlling better my emotions. But still, there is long way to go. If I want to compete with good players, it's not enough.”
In a way, that could be scary for the rest of the ATP World Tour. Rublev has proven he is plenty capable of playing at a level to match some of the best talents out there — he has three Top 20 victories since August. But he admits there is room to grow even further.
“Of course in general it was a great season for me because I won my first title. I did quarter-final on a few tournaments. I did quarter-final at a Grand Slam. But still there is a lot of up-and-downs. I can play one tournament good, and then next two tournaments I'm losing first round,” said Rublev, who believes becoming physically stronger will help improve his consistency. “I'm playing with them [top players] only because of my shots, and if I will have also strong body and I will run fast it will be more easy for me. And we'll see. Now preseason is coming, and I'm going to put as much work as possible.”