When Andrey Rublev did his on-court interview following his straight-sets win on Tuesday at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, the Russian got a surprise. The fourth seed, who does not look at draws, was told his next opponent will be former World No. 1 Andy Murray.
“Oof! I didn’t know, actually,” Rublev said, cracking a smile under his mask. “We’ll see, it’s going to be interesting. It’s Andy. He’s a legend.”
The respect is mutual. Murray and Rublev have only clashed once before, and the Scot believes the 23-year-old is a player to watch.
“He’ll be around at the top of the game for a long time because he’s got a great work ethic,” Murray said. “And he’s a very good player.”
Their previous ATP Head2Head meeting came in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open. Murray was the top seed, and Rublev was a 19-year-old qualifier competing in his first main draw at Melbourne Park. At the time, the Russian was No. 152 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“I played him when he was very young at the Australian Open… he went for it. He hit the ball big back then,” Murray said. “He physically was not that strong then, but I think he’s worked really hard on that side of things.”
Rublev’s memory of the match is that Murray, “almost beat me 6-0, 6-0, 6-0”. The 2020 Nitto ATP Finals competitor actually won five games that day. But while Rublev is now the favourite, ranked World No. 8, he still holds the Scot in the highest regard.
“Andy is a true legend and I have a really good connection with him,” Rublev said. “I really like him as a person and as a player. He destroyed me once in the past. I’m sure we’ll have great, long rallies and it will be a fight.”
Murray hasn’t played Rublev in a match in more than four years. But the World No. 123, who remains on the comeback trail from 2019 hip surgery, has seen the Russian’s progress up close.
“He’s always practising. I’ve practised with him a few times and from the first ball, he doesn’t sort of warm into it,” Murray said. “He just goes full power from the beginning of the practice and that’s how he plays matches and that’s what’s gotten him lots and lots of success.”
Rublev led the ATP Tour with five titles last season, and he maintained that momentum to start 2021. The red-hot Russian helped lead his country to the ATP Cup title and he reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, where he fell short against countryman Daniil Medvedev, who is the top seed in Medvedev.
What does Murray believe Rublev needs to do to continue his climb?
“I think that the next step for him to winning or going deeper in majors is probably just learning to tone it down at times maybe in matches,” Murray said. “But it’s difficult when you’ve played a certain way, which has gotten you to the top of the game and into the Top 10 of the world at a young age.”
While both men are in very different spots compared to where they were at the 2017 Australian Open, they are both looking forward to a difficult battle at the Rotterdam Ahoy.
“It’s going to be fun,” Rublev said. “It’s going to be an interesting match.”