Andrey Rublev Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: When Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori steps on to Centre Court to face Andrey Rublev in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday, he better think outside the proverbial box and beyond the realms of tennis.

It would enhance his chances of making progress in the tournament. For Rublev is likely to checkmate him into submission at some point after admitting to a massive love affair with the ‘Game of Kings’. The Russian world No. 8 admits he has chess on his mind when he steps on court and that would probably explain why he is currently riding the crest of a wave of form that has put him on a 20-match winning streak and seen him land four straight ATP 500 titles. It’s helped him get off to another strong start in 2021.

Ahead of his second appearance at the Dubai tournament, which he starts against Ruusuvuori, Rublev said: “Chess can help tennis, maybe strategy wise. It gives you more patience, but I play chess like I play tennis. I try and take a queen, or a forehand in tennis, and dictate. I prepare to attack.”

Rublev is the second seed in Dubai after Austria’s Dominic Thiem and if he wins here it will mark his fifth straight success at an ATP 500 event. In Dubai, Rublev will look to overcome the conditions that saw him exit at the quarter-final stage last year. “It’s always tough conditions here as the balls fly and it doesn’t suit my game style,” the 23-year-old said. “It will be a great challenge for me, as I will need to find other ways to play matches.”

Rublev won five ATP Tour titles in 2020 and has a 13-2 record this year. Last month, he joined forces with Daniil Medvedev, Aslan Karatsev and captain Evgeny Donskoy to help Russia win the ATP Cup crown, while also reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals.

Rublev added: “It’s tough to know what you need to do to produce good results. I’ve focused on myself to accept the things that I can’t change and do the best I can [each] today. This is the direction I am moving in and what has helped me. It also helped me to be better mentally.

“I feel like I am doing some things better than last year … I’ve always worked hard, it’s been a long journey of improvement. No one has ever told me to work or [needed] to motivate me. I was always doing things at 100 per cent and enjoying it. I then had some injuries [lower back stress fracture and right wrist] and stressful problems off the courts.

“Little by little, things began to fix themselves. I knew I needed to focus on myself, be in the moment and just play tournaments. In the end, the puzzle came together and from last year, I have started to play better and better.”