When this morning’s work is done, Andy Murray will have plenty to talk about with his opponent – Andrey Rublev’s dad was a boxer and Murray loves his boxing.
It is just those awkward couple of hours before that chat, those couple of hours when Murray will be trying to march over Rublev and into the third round of the Australian Open, that could prove difficult for the Russian. Ranked No 152 in the world and aged just 19, the man from Moscow has never played at this rarefied level before. Looking at the world No 1’s record, he will see little to comfort him.
Murray simply does not lose to players with such a lowly ranking as Rublev. He did once lose to Jean-Rene Lisnard on clay in Monte Carlo when Lisnard was ranked No 154 but that was back in 2006 when Murray was just 18 and was only a matter of months into his first full year on the professional tour. Murray is, to put it mildly, a little more experienced now and Rublev knows it.
The Russian usually earns his corn on the Challenger circuit, schlepping around the globe in search of the ranking points that could push him on and up to the next rung of the ladder and allow him access to the main tour. As yet, he has knocked on the door at the qualifying events of the smaller ATP tournaments but he has not had much luck. He did qualify in Melbourne and his defeat of Lu Yen-Hsun on Monday was his first ever grand slam victory, but now he has to take on the best player in the world. He is not expecting much from today’s encounter.
“I am not even on the ATP Tour yet,” he said. “I am still No 152 which means it is always tough to play in good tournaments because, with most of them, I am not getting in [because of my ranking]. You are on the tour when you are playing all the best tournaments in the main draw.
“But when you play one grand slam and then another tournament far away from the place because you are not etting in the big tournaments, it is a different story. Next for me I think it is going to be a Challenger in France.”
These were not the words of a confident man – he is already thinking of his flight back to Europe once Murray has finished duffing him up. Knowing that he is taking on the hardest worker on the men’s tour – it is official: the Australian Open stats people have announced that Murray works harder than anyone else – Rublev suddenly sounds awfully tired.
“Almost every sport, if you want to get something and be one of the best, every sport is so tough,” he said. “Not just sport, even if you try to open a business, if you want to go far, you need to work.”
Yet Rublev must have inherited some of his father’s sporting mettle. Andrey Rublev Senior was a lightweight back in the days of the Soviet Union and little Andrey used to go to the gym with him and train with some of the other boxers there.
“My dad was a boxer – I was even doing boxing as well,” he said. “He never pushed me but we practised sometimes also. He was a long, long time ago when it was before Russia but the USSR, they were fighting only there. In Russia we had categories, he had one of the best: Master of Sport. I never sparred with him but did with others.”
But it was his mother, Marina Marenko, and her sport that won him over. She was a tennis teaching pro and, as Rublev put it: “All my life she was teaching. Like since I was born I had a racket.”
He must have been listening intently to her because no sooner had he turned pro than he claimed the scalp of Fernando Verdasco at the Barcelona event two years ago. This showed giant-killing potential – and that can only bode well for him when he takes on Murray. Well, that is theory anyway.
“That time I was absolutely not ready,” he said. “Now mentally and physically I am much better. My tennis is much better, now I am more ready. That time I got a bit lucky – I was playing a good match that day and it just happens sometimes. You can always see top guys lose one or two matches to the player they are not supposed to lose to.”