Andrey Rublev wins fourth title of 2020 in St Petersburg to move closer to Nitto ATP Finals
Alexander Zverev wins career 12th title in Cologne; eyes 13th next week in same city
The rankings in men’s tennis this year were certainly thrown a curved ball by the coronavirus pandemic.
Points won for the 12 months since the tour ground to a halt before March will remain in place unless overtaken by better points in tournaments that have been played in the interim.
It all means that there has plenty left to play for, and especially this week, where two new tournaments hit the circuit—Cologne and Sardinia—and the established St Petersburg has been upgraded from 250 to 500 points.
The big 2020 winners—Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, US Open champion Dominic Thiem, and French Open champion Rafael Nadal—top the qualifications for the Nitto ATP Finals, in London’s O2. And they are joined by three younger men, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev.
But with world No4 Roger Federer out of contention as he continues rehab after knee surgery, who will snap up the remaining slots for the prestigious season finale?
The first champion of the day, Laslo Djere in Sardinia, ranked at 74, was not among those in line for London, but the Serb’s second career title was no less welcome for that. He beat Marco Cecchinato, 7-6(3), 7-5.
The next champion of the day came in Cologne, which is hosting back-to-back 250s, and this first had drawn a great line-up, from top seed Zverev to world No10 Roberto Bautista Agut, and former Major champions, Andy Murray and Marin Cilic.
Just 23 himself, Zverev took on 20-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime. And the home-grown top seed started strongly, breaking in the very first game, and then again to take a 5-2 lead. But Auger-Aliassime upped his aggressive tactics and broke back, only to be broken straight back by Zverev, 6-3, after little over half an hour.
Should Zverev continue to play the assured and big-hitting tennis that had got him to the final, he would win his first title in almost 18 months, his first of this COVID-blighted season, and his 12th overall.
But while he again got the first break in the second set, 4-2, the problem of the last year or so, an unreliable, nervy serve in the big moments, threatened to unravel his position, as two double faults found him at 15-40. However, he regained his rhythm, and held, 5-2.
Auger-Aliassime was playing in his sixth final, and seeking his first title. Perhaps it was the tension that caused too many errors to punctuate his play. He pressed Zverev through some lengthy, probing rallies in the last game, but the top seed and home favourite served it out, 6-3.
Frankly, for all the difficulties faced in 2020, this has proved to be a good one on the performance front from Zverev. At Major level, he reached his first semi in Australia, and then his first final at the US Open—falling just short of the title in a fifth-set tie-break. So proof that he is on his way to delivering at the highest five-set level as has done already at Masters level.
As for Auger-Aliassime, Zverev had warm words:
“You’re an unbelievable player. I know it doesn’t mean much right now, but I’m sure you are not only going to win one title, you’re going to win multiple, multiple titles in your career… We know each other terribly well… You are going to be looking at a winner’s trophy very soon.”
Zverev has already qualified for the ATP Finals at the O2, where he was champion two years ago, but one of his contemporaries, Andrey Rublev, was in the process of trying to reach his first finale.
The Russian entered the final in the beautiful Russian city of St Petersburg via a draw that boasted three home hopefuls among the top four seeds. But Rublev had been one of the players of this truncated season so far, with three titles and more match-wins than anyone except world No1 Djokovic.
Since the lock-down eased in late August, the Russian had reached the quarters of both the US and the French Opens and won the Hamburg 500. Now he was close to his second 500 of 2020.
He took on the runner-up to Medvedev last year, 23-year-old Borna Coric, and both had come back from a set down against formidable Canadians in the semis, the former to Denis Shapovalov and the latter to Milos Raonic.
Rublev had already moved into one of the two remaining places left at the ATP Finals with his run thus far, and could add another 200 points with the title. And he came out playing some explosive tennis, already fist-pumping every big point, and had the chance to break in a long sixth game, but Coric’s confidence and game improved with the set.
It headed to a tie-break, where the Croat thumped his way to a 5-2 lead, only to see Rublev respond impressively to reel off five straight points for the set, 7-6(5).
This intense, heart-on-the-sleeve Russian roared to his box, while Coric was left to rue a couple of unforced errors at the wrong time. And he was made to battle hard to hold serve at the start of the second set, before Rublev finally broke him in the fifth, holding strongly to lead 4-2.
Coric was not able to work a single break chance in the set, leaving Rublev to serve it out, 6-4, after an entertaining hour and 40 minutes.
The two contemporaries who had grown through the junior ranks together, and were highly complementary of one another. Rublev concluded:
“You are one of the hardest working players… and I am proud to call you my friend.”
More immediately, though, Rublev consolidated his position as next in line to qualify for London. Two of his competitors for the ATP Finals are in action in Cologne next week, but there are still decent points on the table before mid November, notably another 500 in Vienna and the 1000 at the Paris Masters.
The qualification list thus far.
Race to London
[Federer absent following knee surgery]
Next to qualify
8 Diego Schwartzman*
9 Matteo Berrettini
10 Gael Monfils
12 Bautista Agut* [pulled out of Antwerp with elbow injury]
13 David Goffin
14 Pablo Carreno Busta
*Seeking to qualify for first time
Cologne Championships 250
26 October-1 November