Rotterdam 2021: Russians step up, as Rublev and Khachanov reach Round 2—in singles and doubles

Khachanov beats former champion Wawrinka; Rublev advances to Murray showdown

Andrey Rublev
Andrey Rublev (Photo: ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament)

A couple of years ago, the first of a trio of outstanding young Russian men burst through to the top 10.

Karen Khachanov, a powerhouse of a man, went from winning the Paris Masters to reaching the quarters of the French Open, taking an alternative spot at the ATP Finals along the way.

Remarkably, the same Khachanov is now the only one of the three not to be seeded at the prestigious Rotterdam 500 this week, missing out on one of the eight spots by just one ranking point the No20-ranked Stan Wawrinka.

Meanwhile, Khachanov’s two compatriots, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, are seeded No1 and No4 respectively, and regarded as two of the in-form men of the last six months.

Indeed Medvedev had won 20 straight matches before losing in the Australian Open final, including victories over every other member of the top 10 except the injured Roger Federer. The 25-year-old world No3 now had three Masters titles, the ATP Finals trophy, the ATP Cup—with Rublev—and could clinch the No2 ranking if he reached the final in Rotterdam.

As for team-mate Rublev, the youngest of the trio, he had reached three straight Major quarter-finals, broken into the top 10, and notched up no fewer than five titles in the truncated 2020 season. He set new career-high rankings seven times through that 22-week 2020 ranking freeze, stacking up a 49-11 tally, already up to 8-1 this year. What is more, he brought a 15-match win-streak at the ATP500 level into Rotterdam, having won the last three of them in Hamburg, St Petersburg and Vienna.

Rublev’s first opponent this week was qualifier Marcos Giron, ranked 80 and playing in the Rotterdam draw for the first time, and the American looked the stronger and more confident player in the early goings.

Both had break chances in a tight first set, but it took a while for Rublev to warm up. However, as they approached the tie-break, the Russian began to find his range and pace, and he powered through to claim the set, 7-6(1), in little more than three-quarters of an hour.

Now with the bit between his teeth, Rublev reeled off three straight games, conceding just two points in the process. Now he looked like the No4 seed, made fewer errors, ventured more to the net—where he made 15 points—and served it out, 6-3, after 78 minutes.

So Rublev extends his 500-level winning streak to 16, and it earns him a showpiece contest against wild card Andy Murray. It will be only their second meeting, the first played over four years ago when the Russian was still a teenager. Rublev was surprised:

“Oh… I didn’t know. Oh. It’s Andy, he’s a legend, he beat me once almost -0 -0 -0… it will be an interesting match!”

Now it was the turn of compatriot Khachanov, with whom Rublev had already reached the second round in the doubles draw. The pair they beat? Dusan Lajovic and Stan Wawrinka—and Khachanov now faced the No8-seeded Swiss in the singles draw.

Both players were in search of their first title in a long time. Khachanov’s last victory was that Masters triumph in Paris in late 2018. As for three-time Major champion and 2015 Rotterdam winner Wawrinka, he had not won a title since Geneva almost four years ago.

The 24-year-old Khachanov looked as though he had worked himself into some form after five match-wins during his Australian swing. He came out hitting big and with confidence, finding considerable penetration on the Ahoy Arena’s slow centre court.

He broke in the third game, and although Wawrinka had two chances to break back in the sixth, the Russian held for 4-2. He went on to serve it out, 6-4, with Wawrinka needing to up his serving percentage if he was to build a platform to strike back.

The Swiss did indeed up his level in the second, and it was all square in a quality set that saw little between the two men in some fast and aggressive tennis. Neither could convert their only break-point chance—until the 11th game, that is, when Khachanov unleashed some big angled strikes, followed into the net, and took the initiative and the break, 6-5.

It was the work of a minute or so to serve out the win after an hour and a half, Khachanov advancing to the second round, 7-5, where he will meet Briton Cameron Norrie.

Also in this half, Hubert Hurkacz beat Adrian Mannarino, 6-3, 7-6(6), and will play either No2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or Egor Gerasimov.

In the top half of the draw, Alex de Minaur beat fellow Australian John Millman, 6-1, 6-4, in 69 minutes. He now plays another big unseeded name, Kei Nishikori.

Medvedev will begin his campaign to reach No2 on Wednesday, along with No3 seed Alexander Zverev, and Sunday’s Montpellier finalists, David Goffin and Roberto Bautista Agut.

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