The sixth-seeded Russian entered the clash trailing Nadal 0-2 in their ATP Head2Head and facing down the Spaniard’s daunting 73-5 record at this event. But he came out swinging fearlessly against Nadal on Court Rainier III, the same court where the Spaniard has lifted a record 11 trophies in the Principality.
On one side, if we look [at] a player like Rafa, who is the best clay-court player in history, then of course it’s one of my best victories for sure, Rublev said in his post-match press conference. “But if you look at [it] from [the] other side, how he feels, for sure he didn’t play his even ‘good’ level today. In his position it’s so tough when people expect [that] you’re the best player on clay and you have to win yes or yes every time. You cannot lose on clay because you’re the best. It’s so tough to play with this feeling.
He’s doing this year by year. He’s winning all the tournaments or going deep every time on clay tournaments. This is amazing how he handles this. That’s why he’s one of the legends.
Rublev pressed Nadal from the back of the court as he dictated the rallies with his forehand and was rewarded with seven breaks of serve across three sets. Nadal has never hit more than eight double faults in a single tour-level match in his career (2014 Indian Wells), but he struck five in the first set alone and seven in total against Rublev. The Spaniard looked out of sorts during the early exchanges and was uncharacteristically misfiring on the backhand wing – a side that Rublev honed in on to great success.
All the situation was strange, Rublev said of his dominant start. ‘I mean, [it] was not real that I was winning 6-2, 3-1, having breakpoints for [a] second break. It was not real. Probably inside I understood that something is going to change. It cannot be like this all the match. If it’s like this all the match, then I don’t know, probably Rafa had his worst day of his life.’