Andrey Rublev captured his third tour-level title of the season Sunday, overcoming World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and a lively Serbian crowd to complete his Serbia Open debut in style.
In a hard-fought clash, the second dug deep against Djokovic as he hit with relentless power and intensity to outlast the home favorite 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-0 at the ATP 250 clay-court event.
The 24-year-old saved five set points in the second set to force a tie-break and while he was unable to prevent Djokovic from leveling the match, Rublev grouped in the decider as he looked the fitter of the two to triumph after two hours and 29 minutes.
“It is big to play against you and share the court for the second time,” Rublev said to Djokovic during the trophy ceremony. “I hope we have more battles. I feel so great here, it is a very nice city. It feels really special. I want to say a big thanks to all the spectators for supporting all the players all week. To see full crowds again is special for all of us.”
Rublev has now equaled Spaniard Rafael Nadal for the most tour-level titles in 2022, having also clinched crowns in Marseille and Dubai in February. With his maiden victory over a World No. 1, the World No. 8 has leveled his ATP Head2Head series against Serbian Djokovic at 1-1, gaining revenge for his defeat at the Nitto ATP Finals last season.
Djokovic was competing in his third event of the season as he aimed to clinch his maiden title of the year against Rublev. The 34-year-old, who lost in the quarter-finals in Dubai and suffered a shock second-round defeat against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in Monte Carlo, battled past Laslo Djere, Miomir Kecmanovic and Karen Khachanov in three sets as he worked his way back into form. However, the short time eventually caught up with the top seed against Rublev..
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Rublev arrived in Belgrade off the back of disappointing ATP Masters 1000 performances in Miami and Monte Carlo, where he lost in the second round and third round, respectively.
However, he found his top form this week, dropping just one set en route to the title as he also eliminated #NextGenATP Czech Jiri Lehecka, Japan’s Taro Daniel and Italian Fabio Fognini with heavy-hitting performances.
Sunday’s final was the fourth championship match of the season that featured two Top 10 players, with Rublev’s win improving his tour-level championship match record to 11-5.
In an entertaining final, Rublev quickly found his range as he demonstrated good footwork to dictate on his aggressive forehand. The second seed continuously forced Djokovic deep behind the baseline as he took large cuts at the ball to pull the Serbian around the court. The World No. 8 broke Djokovic twice in the first set and saved the one break point he faced to move ahead.
Fueled by confidence, Rublev would have been eager to pull away at the start of the second set, but Djokovic had other ideas. He began to hit with greater depth and started to win the backhand exchanges to pull into a 2-0 lead. However, Rublev demonstrated his fighting qualities as he quickly leveled at 2-2, before he saved two set points in a mammoth service game at 4-5 to hold.
Djokovic then fended off a break point himself at 5-5, before Rublev once again found big serves and heavy forehands at the crucial moment to save three more set points on serve at 5-6 and force a tie-break. The Serbian would not be denied, though, storming into a 5/2 lead in the tie-break before letting out a roar when he leveled the match.
The effort the World No. 1 put into the second set seemed to catch up with him in the decider, though, with Djokovic fading fast in the third set as he was unable to match Rublev’s intensity. The second seed continued to strike the ball aggressively in the third set, but Djokovic no longer had the answers, with Rublev soaring to victory.
Djokovic now holds a 37-6 record in Serbia, having lifted the trophy at the Serbia Open in 2009 and 2011 and at the Belgrade Open last season.