He is part of the “Next Gen”, the new crop of young hopefuls looking for glory and trophies and today Alexander Bublik – or Sasha, as he is known – will attempt to unseat Andy Murray from his throne as Wimbledon champion.
Unfortunately for Bublik, the “Now Gen” – that would be Murray, the world No 1 – has no intention of moving. The Scot is feeling better day by day, his hip is feeling the benefit of a few days of enforced rest last week and he planned to spend yesterday evening checking out Mr Bublik, the world No 134, and his talents on YouTube.
“I haven’t played against him, and I’ve not seen him play loads,” Murray said. “I’ve heard a few things from some of the players. I chatted to him a little bit at Indian Wells earlier in the year. He’s obviously a big personality. He’s not a quiet guy.
“From what I’ve heard, he’s pretty entertaining on the court in terms of the way he plays, how he is. He’s quite unorthodox. He plays a lot of unexpected shots, a lot of drop shots, mixes his game up a lot, takes chances, tries some more sort of shots that guys may play in exhibitions, he tries when he’s out there. That’s what I’ve heard.
“I’ll try and watch a bit of video this evening with my team, see what we can get hold of, take it from there. But, yeah, it’ll be an interesting match.”
Bublik is, indeed, anything but quiet. Tall at 6ft 4in, still only 20 and as thin as a lath, he certainly is not lacking in confidence. His chat with Murray in Indian Wells involved him interviewing the world No 1 on camera for the ATP’s website. Murray was one of many stars the Russian-born Kazakh filmed that day: he tried to bounce Roger Federer into playing doubles with him, he discussed hair styles with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and he picked “Sir” Andy’s brain (he seemed to enjoy teasing the new knight of the realm over his honour) for advice on becoming a better player.
“A lot of training,” was Murray’s first offering.
“Is that useful?” Bublik asked, sounding stunned.
“And not serving 20 double faults in a match!” was the last nugget from the Scot.
Because Bublik did serve 20 double faults in a qualifying match in Morocco. He won in straight sets, but his wayward style cost him the equivalent of five games with those 20 errors. Then again, Bublik does not really have a style – not one that he knows about, at any rate.
“My game is unpredictable,” he said. “I don’t even know what I’m going to do. I decide when the ball is coming, I decide right before I hit. I don’t have a plan. I serve wide then I play cross-court. I serve wide then a drop-shot or a lob, whatever.”
Bublik claims he will not lack support when he takes on Murray.
The 20-year-old revealed his seats in the players’ box will mostly be occupied by Russian rap artists.
“I love rap, I love music,” he said.
“In my box in the match, there’s going to be a lot of rappers. Really famous Russian ones. Like with two or three million followers and everything.”
He may have formidable backing but quite how his off-the-cuff style of play will match up against Murray’s more orthodox power and consistency is anyone’s guess. The bookies are backing Murray to the hilt (anything from 1/20 to 1/100) while most are putting Bublik at the 16/1 mark. Even those of a non-betting persuasion are not giving the Kazakh much of a chance. The focus, as ever, will be on Murray and how well he is hitting the ball after his interrupted preparations. The man himself, though, sounds reasonably relaxed and pretty happy with life.
News leaked out over the weekend that Murray and his wife Kim are expecting their second child, a revelation that had some people worrying that the world No 1 would be distracted by impending fatherhood. This thought taxed Murray’s patience somewhat.
“We’re both obviously very happy and looking forward to it,” Murray said, not looking particularly happy at all to be discussing such personal matters in public.
“I’ve had family the whole time I’ve been playing tennis so, yeah, I’ll be fine dealing with that. It’s certainly not a distraction in the slightest.”
What has been a distraction has been his troublesome hip and the time he has missed on the practice courts.
“It’s a little bit stressful if you can’t practise for a few days,” he said, “you really want to be preparing, training as much as you can to get ready and make you feel better, especially when you hadn’t had any matches.
“We made the decision on Tuesday that, after I hit for a little bit in the morning, I needed to take a few days’ break if I was going to give myself the best chance to be ready. There was no use pushing for three or four days, making myself worse. But once you tell the coaches, ‘Right, I’m good to go’, it’s back over to them to get you doing the right things on the practice court.”
And judging by the look on his face as he headed for home, he felt ‘good to go’ all right. Bublik and his Next Gen colleagues will have to wait a while – the Now Gen, sore hip or no, is planning to stick around for a while yet.