After a notable week in Monte Carlo, the young Russian Andrey Rublev has taken a wild card for the next week's ATP 500 event in Barcelona. Rublev reached the first Masters 1000 final in the Principality, losing it to Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-3 and earning enough points to pass Roger Federer on the ATP ranking list and Novak Djokovic on the ATP Race.
A few days earlier, Rublev took the Barcelona invitation, facing Rafael Nadal in the quarter-final in Monte Carlo and knowing it could be his last tournament's match. Meeting his idol Nadal for the third time, Rublev scored a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 triumph in two hours and 32 minutes, stunning the 20-time Major champion and extending his Monte Carlo journey.
Playing for the 12th Monte Carlo title, Rafa made a strong start against Federico Delbonis and Grigor Dimitrov, losing only a couple of games to enter the 16th Monte Carlo quarter-final and set the clash against Rublev, one of the season's best players so far.
Well-capable of challenging anyone when his game is on, Andrey overpowered the king of clay for the second consecutive Masters 1000 semi-final after Miami! Rublev got broken four times and stole Nadal's serve on seven occasions, dominating the scoreboard in sets he won to enter the last four.
The Russian had 23 winners and 28 unforced errors, taming his strokes nicely and taking advantage of Nadal's over 30 unforced mistakes. Rublev had the edge in the shortest and most extended exchanges, starting all over after wasting the second set's lead and sending the 11-time champion packing.
Like in 2019 against Fabio Fognini, Nadal was miles from his best, struggling behind the initial shot big time and hitting many double faults, like never before in the Principality. Andrey overpowered Rafa from the baseline in sets one and three, dictating the pace with bold and aggressive hitting and pushing the opponent's backhand to the limits to open the court and keep the rallies under control.
Andrey Rublev thought he would lost to Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo.
The Spaniard opened the clash with a double fault that cost him his serve, and the Russian confirmed the break with a hold for an early advantage. Rafa broke back in game four to level the score at 2-2, but that gave him nothing, as Andrey seized the third break chance in the next one to regain the lead.
Serving at 2-4, Nadal netted a tired forehand to fall further behind and sprayed another at 2-5 to hand the opener to Rublev after 38 minutes. With nothing working his way, Nadal sent a backhand wide at the beginning of the second set to find himself a set and a break down.
Andrey saved a break chance in game four to remain in front and created three opportunities in the one that followed, seeking an even more significant lead. Giving his best, Rafa saved those to stay within one break deficit, hoping for more chances on the return.
They came in game six when Rublev faced four break points, only to erase them and open a 4-2 gap. Nadal repelled a break opportunity with a forehand winner in game seven and made a vital hold to stay in touch. The previous four games saw 13 deuces and nine break chances, with returners converting none of those.
That all changed in game eight when Rafa used an open court to place a winner and pull the break back, leveling the score at 4-4 and gathering a boost. The Spaniard held at 30 in game nine, taking four of the last five games and forcing Rublev to serve for staying in the set.
Hitting with more power, Nadal grabbed the second straight break at 5-4 to steal the set and force a decider, hoping for more of the same in the encounter's final part. Instead of that, Andrey made a better start in the third set, scoring a break in the first game before wasting two game points and netting a forehand to allow Rafa to break back.
Nadal got broken again in game three to push the Russian 2-1 in front, with a lot of work to be done if he wanted to cross the finish line first. Losing steam in those moments, Rafa experienced a break at 15 in game five following Andrey's forehand winner, needing a miracle to produce another escape like in the second set.
The Russian forged a 5-1 advantage with an unreturned serve before Rafa extended the match with a nice hold a few minutes later. Serving for the victory at 5-2, Andrey sealed the deal with a forehand winner, celebrating a great triumph and moving into the semi-final.