Alexander Zverev has never lost to Andrey Rublev – can he maintain that record as they meet at the Shanghai Masters, with Rublev surging back to form?
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Alexander Zverev aims to remain unbeaten against Andrey Rublev as they face off for a place in the quarterfinals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters on Thursday.
Both previous encounters between the two young men have gone Zverev’s way in straight sets and the world no. 6 will hope to maintain that record as he continues to pursue qualification for the Nitto ATP Finals and a return to form.
Zverev currently sits in eighth place on the ATP Race to London, and is only 150 points behind the player in seventh place, Roberto Bautista Agut – but is also only 20 points ahead of the player in ninth place, David Goffin. All three have made the round of 16 in Shanghai, so every win could be crucial.
It’s really a sign of how good Zverev’s season has actually been, despite his own assessments of it and the sensationalisation of his ‘slump’, that he’s currently in qualifying position for the season-ending championships (alternatively, it might be a damning indictment of the current state of the ATP, if you prefer). But failing to progress in tennis is almost the same thing as going backwards, and Zverev hasn’t made the leap upwards he looked poised to make when he ended 2018 on the huge high of winning the Nitto ATP Finals title. His only title so far in 2019 is a 250 in Geneva, and he hasn’t made a Masters 1000 Series final or gone beyond the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam (and only got that far at one of the year’s four majors, the French Open, although he did drag himself to the last 16 in Melbourne and New York).
Nevertheless Zverev actually had a good week at the China Open last week – at least, he did until he very much didn’t. He scored straight-sets victories over Frances Tiafoe, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Sam Querrey to reach the semifinals, and looked like he might be playing some of his most confident tennis for months as he took an early lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas in that semifinal. Even after being broken back (twice), he held three set points in the ensuing tie-break, only to lose it as Tsitsipas came back from 3-6 down and then slump to a 1-5 deficit in the second set as he completely fell apart, only slightly redeeming himself with a late rally to make it closer.
It was a defeat that told you a lot about Zverev’s season, but he has already bounced back from it, at least partially, by winning a tight match to open his Shanghai Masters campaign, beating Jeremy Chardy 7-6(13), 7-6(3). It took Zverev six set points to close out the first set but he also saved three, and came back from a break down when Chardy served for the second set to close the match out in straight sets – altogether not a bad effort from the German.
It might take more than a decent effort to keep Zverev’s hopes of emulating, or even bettering, last year’s run to the Shanghai Masters semifinals, however.
Rublev, who like Zverev was born in 1997, actually beat Zverev to become the first male player of their generation to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal when he did so at the US Open in 2017, but suffered a major setback in his flourishing career due to a back injury when he had to miss three months of the 2018 season.
The physical and emotional consequences of this injury sent Rublev into a bit of a tailspin which saw him drop out of the top 100 earlier this season. Although he quickly climbed back thanks to reaching the final of the Indian Wells Challenger, Rublev didn’t really start to shine again until after Wimbledon, when he made the final of the 500-level event in Hamburg, beating Dominic Thiem before losing to defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Then came the Cincinnati Masters, which is where Rublev really reminded us that he can be a force to be reckoned with. Qualifying for the main draw, he went on to beat Basilashvili, Stan Wawrinka and the mighty Roger Federer himself to reach the semifinals, a run that would be followed by quarterfinal appearances at the Winston-Salem Open and St Petersburg and a fourth-round finish at the US Open via wins over Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas in a thriller.
Now back up to world no. 33 – only a couple of places off his 2018 career-high ranking of 31 – Rublev lost to Fabio Fognini in the second round of Beijing last week but has been on sizzling form so far in Shanghai, ousting last year’s finalist Borna Coric 6-4, 7-6(4) before disposing of John Millman, runner-up in Tokyo last week, 6-2, 6-0 in 65 minutes.
Zverev and Rublev played twice, once in 2016 and once the following year, and Zverev won both matches in straightforward straight sets, losing just four games in one and five in the other. Will that dynamic still apply in 2019? Rublev has a great deal of power and is quite capable of hitting himself – or anybody else – off the court, while Zverev’s biggest issue this season has been an inability to play with consistent aggression, to impose himself sufficiently on a match (not to mention a plague of double faults). Judging by the way that both have played to reach the third round, this should be their closest match yet – but if Zverev has never lost to Rublev, and with the Russian’s erratic propensities, it seems reasonable to expect Zverev to stay unbeaten against his peer on Thursday.
Zverev vs Rublev Shanghai Masters tennis is live from Shanghai on Thursday at 8pm local/1pm BST
Zverev vs Rublev tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Zverev stay unbeaten vs surging Rublev in Shanghai?
Alexander Zverev has never lost to Andrey Rublev – can he maintain that record as they meet at the Shanghai…
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