Laver Cup: How court-jester Andrey Rublev will land serious blows for Team Europe

‘When I was a junior at age 14 and 15, I didn’t really have a fitness coach and boxing helped me a lot to co-ordinate better. On the court, it gave me a lot of endurance.’ — Andrey Rublev

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Andrey Rublev’s forehand is like a boxing blow to the jaw.

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The fun-loving Russian uses that hammer to dismantle the opposition as he moves around the court like a prize fighter looking for a weakness. His father is a professional boxer and his mother a tennis coach, so Rublev has the sporting lineage and eye of the tiger to drive his game.

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The world No. 8 practises boxing and basketball, and is a fan of the Golden State Warriors, which shouldn’t be surprising. He’s a tennis version of superstar Stephen Curry — fast, instinctive and accurate — and uses humour as a weapon.

Following a waterfront Laver Cup photo shoot Wednesday, the playfulness in Rublev was on display. He took a tennis ball and stepped back from long-range to drain a three-pointer into the event trophy.

“The first one was out of order and I try a second one and it was better,” Rublev said with a trademark smirk during a Team Europe press conference. 

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On a more serious note, Rublev believes boxing training gives him an edge.

“When I was a junior at age 14 and 15, I didn’t really have a fitness coach and boxing helped me a lot to co-ordinate better,” he stressed. “On the court, it gave me a lot of endurance because you need to keep up the intensity.”

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Andrey Rublev of Team Europe before the team photo shoot ahead of the Laver Cup at Rogers Arena on Sept. 20, 2023 in Vancouver/ Photo by Matthew Stockman /Getty Images for Laver Cup

Rublev, 25, is a key cog for Team Europe in the Laver Cup that runs Friday through Sunday at Rogers Arena. And that’s a good thing. With world No. 4 Holger Rune and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas withdrawing due to injuries, Alejandro Davidovich will replace Rune. Alternate Arthur Fils will replace Tsitsipas.

Rublev and Fils will face Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul to close out the night session Friday.

Rublev not only dominated during his lone Laver Cup appearance in at Boston in 2021 — winning his singles match and twice in doubles to power Team Europe to the title — he’s well positioned to be a difference-maker in Vancouver.

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“I know the six guys are very anxious to bring back the trophy to Europe,” said legendary team captain Bjorn Borg. “The team we have is wonderful and close. 

“We hate to lose. They (Team World) think they’re in good shape but they’re not. We are ready to beat these guys.”

Added Rublev: “Let the strongest team win.”

Rublev takes confidence gained in advancing to the U.S. Open quarterfinals earlier this month. He fell to countryman and close friend Daniil Medvedev (4-6), (3-6), (4-6), who survived the sweltering New York City heat to break his buddy’s serve nine times. 

“What to learn? It was a great match,” recalled Rublev. “The conditions were not easy for everybody.”

Said Medvedev: “I know he never gives up. But he knows I never do either.”

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Team Europe’s Andrey Rublev (left) talks with Arthur Fils ahead of the Laver Cup at Rogers Arena on Sept. 20, 2023 in Vancouver. Photo by Clive Brunskill /Getty Images for Laver Cup

Medvedev would defeat Carlos Alcaraz before falling to Novak Djokovic in the final. And even though Rublev has yet to reach a major semifinal in nine attempts, his 2023 season includes two tour titles, five finals and advancing to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, Doha and the Australian Open.

As for the Laver Cup, expect service games to dominate, according to Casper Ruud of Team Europe.

“I’m not going to come to the net, because my volley is not that great,” he admitted. “With modern tennis, people are returning so well, that serve and volley is not so easy anymore. Novak is one of the best returners in the world and took it to another level. 

“But people have become so good at the baseline. It’s going be easier to cut loose, but you’re still trying to win matches for your team. And there’s a good chance that matches go to a tiebreak. We’ve seen it so many times before, so be prepared for that.

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“Even if you lose the first set, you just need to win the next to get into a tiebreak. And matches are quicker than normal. I would say enjoy it because it’s a trophy worth fighting for.

Auger-Aliassime looking for revenge

Felix Auger-Aliassime opens his Laver Cup on Friday night against Gaels Mofils, whom he lost to four years ago.

“He was one of the quickest I’ve ever played against,” recalled the Montreal native. “His defensive skills and court coverage was something I’ve never seen before. I know what to prepare for, but with his quality even at the later stages of his career, he’s able to make you play that extra ball or force you to make a mistake.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime of Team World during a practice round as Captain John McEnroe of Team World and Vice Captain Patrick McEnroe of Team World look on during a practice round ahead of the Laver Cup at Rogers Arena on Sept. 21, 2023 in Vancouver. Photo by Matthew Stockman /Getty Images for Laver Cup

“He’s won a lot of matches doing that, so I’ve got to be careful. I’m a better player now, but the most important thing is to get to the finish line for the team. I have to go for it, but not overdo it.”

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Team World captain John McEnroe is believes Auger-Aliassime, who has battled a nagging knee injury and suffered first-round exits this year at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the French Open, just needs to strut his stuff.

“I want him to bring his passion and energy,” said McEnroe. “It’s one of the things that separates Felix. We know how talented he is. He just has to show it and feel good about it.”

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