Russian youngster Andrey Rublev is the top seed at the NextGen ATP Finals this week in Milan, where eight of the best 21-and-under players on tour will battle it out for one last time in 2017.
Joined by Karen Khachanov, Denis Shapovalov, Borna Coric, Jared Donaldson, Chung Hyeon, Daniil Medvedev and Italian wildcard Gianluigi Quinzi, Rublev and his peers will be the first to play a tournament with new rules the ATP is testing out this week at the Fiera Milano.
“I feel great. I’m excited and I’m happy to be here, so we’ll see what’s going to happen,” Rublev told Sport360 at the NextGen ATP Finals draw party on Sunday night.
“Of course the season was great for me but I hope that the next one won’t be worse and I’ll work hard for it.”
Here are 10 things to know about Rublev…
1. Rublev started the year ranked 152 in the world.
2. He reached a career-high ranking of 35 in October, right before he turned 20-years-old.
3. The Russian is the youngest player in the top-40.
4. In just his fifth Grand Slam main draw, and first as a direct entry, Rublev reached the quarter-finals of the 2017 US Open.
5. He upset world No.9 Grigor Dimitrov and No.14 David Goffin along the way to become the youngest male us open quarter-finalist since Andy Roddick in 2001.
6. Rublev captured his first career title in Umag in july 2017, as a lucky loser.
7. The Muscovite, nicknamed ‘Rubl’, used to be part of a band called ‘Summer Afternoon’ and they released their first music video in September 2015, a cover of One Direction’s ‘Steal My Girl’.
8. He grew up idolising Marat Safin and Rafael Nadal, who ended Rublev’s stunning run in new york in September
9. As a junior, he won the 2014 French Open boys’ singles title and took the singles bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, as well as silver in doubles.
10. His father Andrey Sr. is a former professional boxer and his mother Marina Marenko is a tennis coach.
The tagline for the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals tournament in Milan this week is: ‘The future is now’. Sadly on Sunday night at the official draw party, it felt like we went back in time.
We gathered at Arome, the venue for the Red Bull-sponsored NextGen Finals Draw Party, to find out which player would land in which round-robin group.
Little did we know that the process would involve female models with the letters A or B hidden somewhere on their bodies, which they unveiled once a player “chose them”.
That is how the draw for the 21-and-under tournament was determined.
From then on, the next seed was given a choice of one of two models. Once he made his decision, she would take him down the catwalk, and provocatively reveal the hidden letter that would indicate which group he’d play in. The following seed would then be escorted by the other non-chosen model.
There was inappropriate dancing, gloves that were removed by a player’s teeth, and many more cringe-worthy moments but I’ll spare you the details.
Most of the players looked visibly awkward, while some laughed their way through it. I personally felt deeply sad watching it all unfold.
‘Why is this happening in my sport?’ was my initial thought.
I’ve long loathed the way cyclists were given their winners’ jerseys in the presence of two podium hostesses whose sole purpose was to kiss the cheeks of the champion on stage. Motorsport is not much different.
But even cycling is finally starting to acknowledge how sexist and old-fashioned its jersey ceremony is and Vuelta organisers this year introduced male models to accompany the women. It’s not a complete solution but at least it was a tiny step forward to change a long-standing appalling habit.
Why a tournament that is meant to be focused on the future of tennis would choose to regress in that manner is truly beyond me? Who thought it would be a good idea to handle the draw that way? And what kind of message are they sending to the young fans they are trying to attract to the sport?
This is an event featuring eight players aged between 18 and 21. How about the ATP – and co-organisers the Italian Olympic Committee and Italian Tennis Federation – focus on the great values the sport stands for rather than instill sexist, antiquated behaviour in their so-called ‘NextGen’?
If they wanted to go with the theme of Milan being a fashion capital of the world, there were many ways they could have done so without being wildly sexist and inappropriate.
It reflects a complete detachment from reality on their part, especially in this day and age.
I’m all for the tournament pushing boundaries by testing out new rules. If it results in a snappier version of tennis that is appealing to a large audience then so be it.
But Sunday night wasn’t about new rules. It was about old ones I had hoped were disappearing from sport. Clearly I was wrong!
Rafael Nadal said on Monday that he is ready to consolidate his year-end number one ATP ranking by winning his opening match at the Paris Masters.
But the 31-year-old Spaniard – who is also trying to balance the delicate political situation in his native country with his status as an international sportsman – refused to hype up his potential coronation.
“I need to win a match. I’m here to try my best – as in every tournament,” he said before starting as top seed in the event which is missing Roger Federer due to fatigue.
“Hopefully if this (number one) happens, it will be something important for me. But the season is not over and it’s not the moment to think much about that.
“I’ll just try to think about trying to have the right preparation for the tournament and then try to be ready for the first match.”
When the King of Clay makes your day.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 30, 2017
Nadal, who reclaimed the top ranking in August for the first time in three years, is due to start at Bercy against South Korea’s Hyeon Chung, who opened on Monday with a 6-0, 6-2 first-round defeat of German Mischa Zverev.
Federer is skipping Paris after winning back-to-back titles in Shanghai and Basel and is resting to be prepared for the ATP Finals starting in less than a fortnight in London.
Nadal, who withdrew from Basel with a knee problem, does not fault his main rival for looking after personal interests.
“Everyone makes the calendar which he thinks will be the best for him,” Nadal said. “For him, everything was working well that way. He had a little bit better chance, of course, if he came here. But you never know.
“You would think that he would have more points if he had played on clay. But you never know (that) if he played on clay if he would win Wimbledon or he would be able to play as well as he did.
“He took his decisions and he did it well. Probably after winning Shanghai and winning Basel he believes that will be better for his body and for his preparation for London to not be here, to rest.”
The 10-time Roland Garros champion Nadal said that he is hoping to do well in “the most important city for my career”.
Questioned about the political situation in his native Spain between Madrid and Catalonia, Mallorcan Nadal, also a Catalan speaker, was notably circumspect.
“In my situation it’s very difficult to answer these kind of things because things are, let’s say, sensitive in my country,” said Nadal.
“Anything that I can say will not go the right way. The real thing for me (is that) it’s a sad situation and at the same time a difficult situation; it’s difficult (for me) to talk 100 per cent freely.
“I want the things to get better. I don’t want the fracture between people in Catalonia. I feel close to Catalonia. I love the people in Catalonia, and most of the Spanish people feel the same.
“Love from the rest of the Spanish country, it feels love for Catalonia and that’s it. And that’s the reason that’s why we are sad about that situation.”