Andrey Rublev has showcased his talent at the Next Gen ATP Finals before, thrilling fans at the Fiera Milano one year ago with his run to the championship match. And on Thursday afternoon, he maintained his hopes of advancing to the semi-finals this time around, beating Italian wild card Liam Caruana 4-3(7), 4-1, 4-2.
Coming out in straight sets may prove key for Rublev, as it forces Taylor Fritz to defeat second seed Alex de Minaur in three or four sets. If Fritz takes down the Aussie in five sets, Rublev will join De Minaur from Group B in the semi-finals.
It took Rublev four set points to close out the opener, as the inspired Italian tried to earn a victory for his home fans on Next Gen Arena. But the Russian hit a heavy backhand that Caruana could not handle to take the lead, and he would never look back.
After the first set, Rublev’s coach, Fernando Vicente, utlised the prestigious tournament’s headset innovation to tell his charge to simply reduce his errors, continue moving his feet and be wary of serving too much to Caruana’s forehand, as the eighth seed was routinely blocking it back.
“We need to return more balls. That’s all. You are playing good,” Vicente said. “You stressed a little bit at the end of the set, but you are playing good. Trust in yourself.”
Rublev did just that, losing just three service points in the second and third sets combined. The 2017 Umag champion won 75 per cent of second-serve return points in those sets, ultimately earning his second win of the week in one hour and two minutes.
Caruana did well to win three qualifying matches in three days last week to earn his spot in the Next Gen ATP Finals. And while he did not earn a victory, the Italian provided plenty of memories for the fans, and he will use the experience as he continues his ascent up the ATP Rankings.