Roger Federer won the toss this afternoon, and elected to receive. His first return was a drive backhand at Andrey Rublev’s feet, winning the point.
0-15 in game one was the high point of Federer’s afternoon: Rublev won the next point with a powerful T serve, and he never trailed after that.
Rublev broke Federer to go 2-0 up, provoking a soft murmur in the crowd. That murmur would turn to concern, disbelief, pleading, then ultimately acceptance. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wasn’t in Cincinnati today, and even if she had been she’d have been hard pressed to take the Center Court crowd through all the stages of grief in the 62 minutes it took Rublev to knock out the number 3 seed and 7 time champion.
Susie Reid, a contributor to Tennis With An Accent, sent us a DM that Rublev plays fast and off the front foot. The Russian played aggressive first strike tennis from start to finish: at an early stage in the match I tweeted that he was clearly unimpressed by his opponent, and he stayed unimpressed: at one stage, after Rublev smacked a forehand return winner off a first serve Federer was reduced to challenging his own serve (it landed on the service line. 0-15).
Rublev, like Yoshihito Nishioka, reached the main draw through qualifying: he had played multiple day sessions, and as Susie Reid said he was seeing the ball like a basketball. In press (which Federer took 15 minutes after he came off court) I asked Roger if the switch from night to day had affected his play:
Q. How was the switch from night to day? Did that affect your play, do you think?
ROGER FEDERER: I mean, yes. It does anybody, but it’s just a fact. Day sessions are quick. There is a breeze. The heat makes the ball super jumpy and bouncy and fast. So that’s where you want to be good on the offensive. And if you’re seeking to look for rhythm against certain players, you’re not going to get it, just because they are able to control the outcome of the rallies. And he’s exactly that kind of player, Rublev, where he can take the racquet out of your hand. Yeah, I mean, day sessions are always tough, you know, in North America on the hard courts, because with the heat, the ball just goes, you know. I like those conditions, though. So that’s a pity today.
But Federer insisted on crediting his opponent:
ROGER FEDERER: He was super clean. Defense, offense, serving well. Didn’t give me anything. He was everywhere. So it was tough for me, but excellent match by him. I was impressed.
Federer heads to New York: asked if he’d had enough hard court practice before the last Grand Slam of the year he said, “Yeah, I played 45 matches this year, so I think I should be fine (smiling).”
His opponent has unfinished business in Cincinnati to attend to, with a quarter final against compatriot Daniil Medvedev tomorrow. Medvedev was very impressive this afternoon in a 6-2 6-1 win over Jan-Lennard Struff, and ordinarily I’d tell you to bet on Daniil. But this tournament is something of a coming out party for Andrey Rublev, and he may want to stick around for the weekend.