Men’s tennis is preparing to transition into a new era. We’ve been saying it for a while, but it appears that change is coming within the next 18 months.
With Rafael Nadal in the twilight of his glittering career, and Novak Djokovic about to turn 36, the reality of sports forever changing window is setting in.
It became clear many years ago that only father time would bring a close to this magical era, but sport moves on quickly, and all eyes will turn to who takes the mantle.
Carlos Alcaraz has jumped ahead of the chasing pack, with a maiden US Open title and some incredible numbers, whilst a resurgent Daniil Medvedev looks destined to stretch beyond his one grand slam crown in the coming years.
Medvedev recently welcomed a child into the world and his countryman and friend Andrey Rublev was announced as the godfather to Medvedev’s new arrival.
But where does the still relatively young Rublev sit in that pecking order? Can he shake the grand slam demons, and what does his temperament tell us?
A maiden masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo this month came at a crucial time for Rublev, with a clay court season that looks more open than usual.
Rublev’s win over Holger Rune in Monaco was his first at the 1000 level, with the Russian having lost a final at the same venue, and another at Cincinnati in 2021.
“I feel a bit looser, because I’ve done something I’ve been looking at for a long time,” Rublev said this week.
“It feels like this year there will be many more players fighting for the top spots. Rafa will also come back soon and that’s a problem as well.”
Rublev has reached seven Grand slam quarter finals in his career, with six of those since 2020. Only Nadal (7) and Djokovic (9) have done it more times in that same period.
The challenge for Rublev is that he is yet to progress beyond that stage in any of those seven. Six of those losses have come in straight sets, with the other being an agonising five set defeat to Marin Cilic at last year’s French Open. (Where he had led two sets to one).
A record of 2-21 in sets once reaching the last eight of a slam does not do justice to his talents, and it’s a mental hurdle he needs to be able to shake.
The images of Rublev in tears court side as his loss to Tiafoe was unfolding at Flushing Meadows last year was torturous.
“You feel like you have a bit less weight on your shoulders, but I know there is still so much work I need to do.” Rublev said when looking towards the French Open.
His 11 ATP titles since the start of 2020 ranks him inside the top five most successful players in that period.
In 2022 he was able to secure victories over Djokovic, Tsitsipas and Medvedev, and has added Rune and Fritz to that list this year amongst top ten scalps.
He also won all four finals contested at ATP level in 2022 and has made a further three this year.
His reputation of being an excellent tour player yet somewhat underwhelming at slams is evident by the fact he has taken just one set off a player ranked higher than eight in the world in his entire career at the majors. (Against Dimitrov in R3 of the 2018 Aus Open).
By comparison he has won 29 sets against players ranked eight or higher in 250, 500 and 1000 events during the same time frame.
The question marks on the chasing park are many and varied, but for Rublev the solution looks more easily found.
No shortage of opportunities, and not lacking in consistency. It’s between the ears that he must get right.
Clay presents him with an opportunity, particularly with Nadal’s vulnerabilities and the injury niggles of a few of the other major contenders.
Will this be the year for the 25-year-old?