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Fernando Vicente analyses his understudy Rublev’s start to 2021
For Andrey Rublev, the compliments are flowing in at the same rate as his achievements: three consecutive appearances in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam (US Open, Roland Garros and Australian Open), his first qualification for the Nitto ATP Finals and reaching No. 8 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, a career high. He has plenty of reasons to smile.
Amid so many messages of adulation and satisfaction from various sources, coach Fernando Vicente is not resting on his laurels. First, in order to keep his pupil’s feet firmly on the ground and, then, to show that he shares as much credit for the Russian’s rise as Marina Marenko, Andrey’s mother, and the members of the 4Slamtennis Academy: Galo Blanco, Abraham González, Marcos Pizzorno, Phillip Wessely and Marc Boada.
Vicente and his team do not want Rublev’s success to be fleeting; he is working to make sure that Rublev is in the elite to stay. This is something he fervently highlights in this interview with ATPTour.com from Melbourne.
Another Grand Slam, another quarter-final…
He’s reached the quarter-finals for the third consecutive time at a Grand Slam and, this time, he’s arrived there a little fresher, which was my main concern. From there, being a seed means that in theory you don’t meet such dangerous players. In our part of the draw, we’ve evaded the opponent I was most scared of, which was Roberto Bautista [Agut].
In these tournaments Rublev has really lived up to the label of World No. 8.
Andrey works on and thinks about tennis all day. He deserves everything good that has happened to him. He’s hitting the ball very well, he’s improved physically and mentally. You can’t really say he is bad mentally when he won five tournaments last year, and now he has nine victories on the trot since beating [Dominic] Thiem at the [Nitto] ATP Finals…
He has a good head on his shoulders, but I’d like him to behave a little better, to accept that you can fail...
What do you mean?
To accept that accidents happen on court. That you can have a bad day or lose a match that he doesn’t think he should. That’s more of a mental thing than technical.
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You’ve never hidden the fact that a fundamental part of your work as a coach is to be straight with him.
Tennis is a sport where you have to be humble and honest. You can’t lie to yourself and set targets you can’t meet, because your mind won’t let you. I want Andrey to have a long career, not to be outstanding now and then burn out because the stress is killing him. I want him to be consistent, that when he goes out on court he is convinced that he has done his best, that you can talk about tennis and not so much about behaviour. He has great shots, then there are things to improve on that he’s still working on. And apart from that, understanding that everyone is playing very well.
You’ve already mentioned his behaviour several times in this interview.
This is my biggest battle with him, his behaviour on court. I don’t like seeing him so anxious, telling himself that he must win at any cost. I like to see him flow on court, to play his game. But he’s looked more irritable than normal to me over the last few days, which is something we talk about every day.
Is he too hard on himself?
There are two different Andreys, the one that played in the ATP Cup and the one at the Australian Open. In my opinion, now he has put a lot of pressure on himself. Although he has won the matches and hasn’t dropped a set, I’ve still had the feeling that he was playing not to lose, forcing himself because he feels he is favourite on the court. He has to adapt and accept that you can’t always win in three sets, that people play well and that it is very difficult to win such big tournaments.
You’ve defined Rublev at the Australian Open. What was he like at the ATP Cup?
It was incredible. He played very well, I was delighted. Everything was straight forward. He won his singles matches, playing incredible tennis and, above all, moving very well, which is one of the aspects we’ve worked on the most; mobility, footwork…
Apart from the stress, he’s delivered in Melbourne and he’s among the top eight in the tournament, which is perhaps what is ‘required’ by his No. 8 ranking.
You feel forced to think about where you should be, but Thiem lost and other seeds did too. I try to explain to him that he doesn’t have to win every match, that accidents happen at every Grand Slam and that everyone plays well. I use him as an example when he was in the Top 50, that he was capable of going a long way, while other seeds lose.
Now he faces a significant challenge against Daniil Medvedev.
It will be a litmus test. We’ll see if he gets over the hurdle of the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam. It’ll be difficult because Daniil has been winning a lot of matches. Andrey will have to play intelligently and sometimes aggressively. He has to manage his emotions and try to play [like he is] convinced that he can win it.
Champions of the ATP Cup, two long winning streaks are crossing paths: Rublev (9) vs Medvedev (18). Why are the Russians so strong in tennis right now?
They have talent, shots, they’re competitive, humble and they work hard. I’ve seen it with Daniil too because we shared a locker room at the ATP Cup. They are winners, that’s why they’re up there. There’s a number of them, starting with Karen [Khachanov] and the rest have followed. They’re competitive with one another and they have a great relationship. It’s great to be with them. And Karatsev has joined them here.
Did he surprise you?
I already knew him and he’s a player with huge potential, but he has had several obstacles in his way. He’s a great kid, very shy. He’s been with us all week and we’re laughing a lot with him. We’re happy things are going so well for him.
Finally, although it is difficult to assess oneself, what share of the credit do you take for Rublev’s success?
We’re working very hard, investing a lot of hours. You have a player with desire, you follow him, he motivates you… I’m happy because I know I’m doing the work correctly, I’m convinced that I tell him what I think and that it’s what’s required.
Your work was recognised at the ATP Awards as 2020 Coach of the Year.
I think the people that voted valued the fact that we’ve been at it for five years and that it’s very difficult in tennis to be patient, but I’d like there to be talk about Andrey’s technical team, not just the visible face. There’s a team behind it, where we all contribute. I’m really convinced that it’s gone well for him because we’ve invested a lot of hours.
I don’t need them to give me an award, because I don’t think I deserve it. I’m not the best coach in any year. Not at all. The best coach of the year is Nadal’s [coach Carlos Moya], who won the French Open.