Andrey Rublev was in disbelief as he knocked Rafael Nadal out in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters. The Russian remembers thinking, ‘it’s not real,’ mid-way through his 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 win over the 11-time champion.
The sixth seed entered the clash trailing Nadal 0-2 in their head-to-head 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.
“All the situation was strange,” Rublev said of his dominant start.
A fitting end to a fabulous performance 👏
— ATP Tour (@atptour) April 16, 2021
“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.”
Once the third seed got going, it seemed like a classic Nadal comeback on clay was inevitable as he took the second set after a grueling 74-minute battle.
With Nadal’s booming forehand finally connecting, the games became longer as the Spaniard tried to find inroads for a comeback. He finally broke through to level the score at 4-4, and reeled off the last four games of the set.
But Rublev responded emphatically in the decider, reestablishing his lead with an early break. He met Nadal blow for blow from the baseline, overpowering the Spaniard to open up a 5-1 lead.
Rublev needed two hours and 32 minutes to close out the victory and seal a spot in his first Monte-Carlo semifinal.
A new Masters 1000 winner will emerge from the @ROLEXMCMASTERS semifinals:
🇬🇧 Dan Evans
🇬🇷 Stefanos Tsitsipas
🇷🇺 Andrey Rublev
🇳🇴 Casper Ruud pic.twitter.com/tgIg90vKte
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) April 16, 2021
“[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.”
It was one of the biggest wins of Rublev’s career. The 24-year-old had also scored 6-3, 6-4 win over Roger Federer at 2019 ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati. Like Nadal at Monte-Carlo, Federer owns the tournament record for most titles at Cincinnati with seven wins.