Newport, Rhode Island, the site of the last grass-court tournament of every tennis season, is a coastal town with a yacht harbor. It is a place where one must ride the waves and deal with the ebbs and flows of the waters. High tide, low tide — the rhythms and forces of nature will vary. Alexander Bublik is learning all about them.
Bublik, of Kzakhstan, just turned 22 years old. He was a tricky opponent for Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros, winning one set and very nearly taking Thiem to five sets before ultimately losing in the second round. He possesses considerable shotmaking flair and has been willing to bust out the underarm serve on plenty of occasions.
He doesn’t like being constrained. He relishes being unconventional yet doesn’t view it as such a big deal. Freedom and individuality are important to him, yet not the kinds of things which should be heavily scrutinized. They should be assumed as part of the natural order. Normalcy is important to Alexander Bublik…
… and just about everything you see on a tennis court should be considered normal, as far as he is concerned.
This characterized his fundamental reaction after Friday’s 0-6, 6-3, 6-0 win over Tennys Sandgren in the Newport quarterfinals.
Yes, it is true that when players make statements to the press, the key detail a lot of press reports leave out of the account is the fact that people in the press asked questions. It is not as though the tennis player himself decided to speak about various issues or hold court on certain topics. No, people asked him questions, and the player was placed in the inconvenient position of having to offer a response.
Bublik didn’t want to talk about tweeners or unconventional shots after the Sandgren match, but that’s what he was asked about.
His responses did reveal a desire to not make a big deal out of aspects of tennis reporters might find unusual.
“It’s just another day of playing tennis,” he told reporters about the ups and downs of the Sandgren match and its two bagel sets.
“You seem so surprised,” he told reporters when asked about the tweeners he has hit.
“Everyone is so serious,” he said, in response to the line of questioning he received.
Tennis is a canvas on which Alexander Bublik wants to express himself without scrutiny. There is really nothing wrong with that. The relevant dimension of Bublik’s uneasy postmatch talk with the press in Newport on Friday is that Bublik — as he grows and evolves — will want to be more comfortable receiving scrutiny.
The questions might be inane or limited. The fascination with tweeners or underarm serves might be overdone. The larger experience of dealing with the press might be unpleasant. All of that might be true.
Yet, this is part of the job.
The Big 3 learned to treat the press not as a chore, but as a companion, a part of being an ambassador to the sport of tennis.
Yes, Alexander Bublik has not gained a high-profile position which makes him a central global figure. That said, it is clear that Bublik is not on the same wavelength as the press.
No, Bublik doesn’t need to get on the same wavelength as the press. This is not an implied suggestion or recommendation that he needs to agree with what the press asks him or approve of how reporters treat him or his game.
Bublik does need to understand, however, what the press is trying to do, and find a way of self-expression which conveys comfort in the public eye (and creates that comfort internally).
Riding the waves, in Newport or anywhere else, requires an ability to be comfortable with every aspect of a professional tennis player’s job.
At 22, Alexander Bublik should not be expected to figure everything out… but he definitely needs to take the steps which will enable him to arrive at that point in a few years.