‘Rafael Nadal moved in front, and it was all gone,’ top-10 star recalls

Beating Rafael Nadal is never easy, especially when he finds the rhythm in the opening games. Andrey Rublev had a chance to experience that in their 2020 ATP Finals clash, losing 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 17 minutes. The Russian had a breakthrough run that year, winning the Tour-leading five ATP titles and scoring 41 victories in a reduced season. The Moscow native cracked the top-10 and secured the ATP Finals debut thanks to three consecutive ATP 500 titles after the season’s restart and back-to-back Major quarter-finals in New York and Paris! Eager to show his best tennis on the big scene, Andrey played his first ATP Finals match against the 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal and suffered a 6-3, 6-4 loss in under 80 minutes.

Rublev admitted he dealt with massive pressure against his idol, eager to show his best tennis but failing to hide emotions and turn them into more reliable tennis. The Russian felt to bring the desired level against Rafa, struggling in every segment, especially on the return. Nadal had the upper hand from start to finish, losing 12 points in ten service games and never experiencing trouble. Returning Andrey’s serves aggressively, Rafa grabbed a single break in each set to claim the 19th ATP Finals victory and make the campaign’s strong start. The more experienced player hit 16 winners and 11 unforced errors, leaving the Russian with 19 winners and 23 mistakes. 

Rublev knew he had to control his emotions to stand a chance vs. Rafael Nadal.

Andrey failed to return almost 40% of Rafa’s serves and sprayed too many errors in attempts to impose his strokes and move the opponent from the comfort zone. Nadal had a significant 44-28 lead in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, determined to stay aggressive and return Rublev’s second serves from inside the court. The encounter kicked off with five commanding holds on both sides before Rafa moved 4-2 up following Andrey’s forehand error. A service winner sent Nadal 5-2 in front, and he landed three winners in game nine to close the opener in 36 minutes. The Spaniard clinched a break in the second set’s first game for an early advantage and held after deuce with a service winner to cement it. A service winner pushed Nadal 4-2 up, and he brought the tenth game home at 15 to cross the finish line. 

“I could not handle the pressure against Rafael Nadal on my ATP Finals debut. I knew I was done and dusted as soon as I showed emotions in the opening games,” Andrey Rublev said.