Andrey Rublev: The drive from within, unlikely inspiration and giving something back

World No 5 tells The National what motivates him and how he hopes to make a difference through his charitable work, ahead of World Tennis League

The National speaks to Andrey Rublev, world No 5 in men’s tennis

The National speaks to Andrey Rublev, world No 5 in men’s tennis
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Andrey Rublev is the number five tennis player in the world. He is an Olympic gold medallist in mixed doubles, a Masters 1000 champion, the owner of 14 career titles, a nine-time grand slam quarter-finalist, and has amassed over $21 million in prize money.

He is also frequently described – by both his peers and his fans – as one of the kindest players on tour and has developed a cult following over the past few years, not just because of his explosive brand of tennis, but because of the way he conducts himself off the court.

At the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last year, Rublev was the first Russian player to speak out against his country’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for peace by scribbling the words, ‘No war please’, on a camera lens after his semi-final win over Hubert Hurkacz.

This month, he released the first collection of his new clothing line ‘Rublo’, which he launched after opting not to renew his contract with Nike (according to his agent Galo Blanco). He has committed to donating 100 per cent of the proceeds from his ‘Play for the Kids’ collection to children's charities.

“I wanted to do something with clothes that would have a meaning or message,” Rublev told The National in an interview on the eve of the World Tennis League, which kicked off in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

“And then on top of that, the more I was travelling, I saw how families or kids are living and a lot of them are suffering. In one moment I just thought, why not to try to do a mix of both things that are important to me?”

Rublev said he realised from a young age that he was in a privileged position while many others were not.

He wants to find a way to involve fans as much as possible in the process, and even give them the opportunity to choose the charity organisation that will receive funds from sales of this collection.

“I want to do it more open so the people know exactly how much money we could collect, maybe in a way to have a few options [for charities] and for people to choose which one they prefer, so they feel that they are more involved, that it’s not something that I tried to lie or cheat,” he added.

An unlikely source of inspiration

In a sport that can be hyper-individualistic, Rublev has found a purpose that is far greater than wins and losses; one that allows him to focus on others instead of just on himself.

At 26 years old, the Dubai-based Russian is coming off of his best tennis season to date and has been working tirelessly on various practice courts across Dubai and Abu Dhabi this month, preparing for 2024 and looking to close the gap on the world’s top quartet of Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner.

Athletes are constantly drawing inspiration from different sources in order to stay motivated. For Rublev, that source is not something you’d expect.

When asked who he finds particularly inspiring during this phase of his career, he pauses for a long time before naming the Oscar-winning film ‘Hacksaw Ridge’.

The movie, directed by Mel Gibson, revolves around the World War II experiences of American army medic Desmond T. Doss, who refused to carry a firearm during the time he was serving and later became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

“This movie inspired me a lot because you don’t really find people where, first of all, from your side they are trying to force you to fight and he went against his own people to say, ‘No I’m not going to fight, I will help and heal’, and then even the people they were going against, he was still helping some of them,” said Rublev.

“That is something that not many people would do. To be without any gun or anything there, just because you don’t want to hurt anyone, is something that inspires me a lot.”

Given Rublev’s stance on the war on Ukraine, and the atrocities taking place in Gaza right now, the subject of war naturally came up and the Russian admits it’s difficult to fathom how any of this is happening.

“You have no understanding of how this is possible,” he admits. “You think, okay, in the past they had no internet, they were less educated, there was less information. But now when you have unlimited information and everything, it’s a different time, and these things are still happening and people are dying for nothing; it’s crazy.”

‘Being kinder to myself should help my tennis’

With a new tennis campaign just around the corner, Rublev reflects positively on 2023 – a season that saw him claim a maiden Masters 1000 crown in Monte-Carlo and reach the quarter-finals at three of the four majors.

Rublev can be volatile on court, and directs a significant amount of abuse towards himself during matches. Once or twice, he’d end up bleeding mid-contest due to a self-inflicted wound or cut from hitting himself with his own racquet.

In a recent interview with, Rublev spoke about how in the past he was kinder to himself but perhaps less so towards others. Over time, he has grown more and more empathetic towards others, but somehow reserves little of that to himself.

“I will not say that I was bad to others in the past, that’s for sure not the case, but I was kind of, a typical… a bit over-confident at 17 about myself; thinking that I’m cool or great or whatever,” he elaborates.

“Because I was over-confident, I was probably thinking about myself that I’m good at this or good at that and maybe I really wasn’t, but I believed that I was. And at some point it was working also well [for my tennis].

“I would say I miss a bit of that, not confidence, but a bit of, how you say… talking to myself [in a positive way]. Because now sometimes I think more negative and at that time even if I wasn’t doing something good, I was still thinking that I’m good. So I miss a little bit the balance.”

Rublev isn’t sure why he has swung completely in the opposite direction when it comes to thinking about himself in a positive manner.

“Maybe in one moment I started to think that I don’t want to feel at all that I’m cocky or something and maybe it went to the other side. I don’t have an answer really,” he says.

“For sure it will help me in tennis if I will be nicer to myself, in a healthy way, and more calm, for sure, 100 percent. So that’s the key, to try to find those keys and to try to improve them.”

External v internal pressure

Rublev’s relationship with pressure has evolved over the years and he says he no longer feels burdened by external factors the way he used to in the past.

“When I was growing up, I was a good junior, I was doing well the first steps at the pro level. I was thinking that I have a lot of pressure because people expect something from me, people are waiting,” he recalls.

“And then later on, in 2018, 2019, when I started to have injuries, I realised that the reality is: no one cares. It’s probably what they teach us growing up because of our ego or something that people expect something [from us] but the reality is that no one cares if you win a few slams or if someone else wins a few slams. You’re doing your job and I’m doing my job and that’s the reality. And when I realised this, pressure became something completely different to me.

“The pressure now is coming because I want to win, I would like to achieve something because of me. It started to be more about me and not about someone else.”

With 56 wins and 26 losses tallied up in 2023, only a couple of those defeats still haunt Rublev from time to time: his final-set tiebreak loss to Hurkacz in the Shanghai final, his straight-sets exit to Medvedev in the US Open quarter-final, and his unexpected five-set defeat at the hands of Lorenzo Sonego in the third round of Roland Garros.

Across his career, Rublev has claimed one victory against each member of the ‘Big Three’ of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Armed with one of the fastest forehands on tour, Rublev can beat anyone on a good day but he still walks away from 2023 with a 1-7 win-loss record against fellow top-five opponents throughout the season.

It is a stat Rublev says he pays little attention to, although he admits he would like to perform more consistently against higher-ranked opposition.

“I need to be realistic and I need to understand that in many aspects they are better than me,” he confessed. “And this is not a fairytale that, okay if I just think about it, tomorrow I go and I beat them.

“The reality is that if I want to be able to win more matches or to be able to play like I played in Paris-Bercy against Novak or against Sinner in Vienna, where the difference was just a little details, then I need to improve the rest of the things that those players are better than me.”

Tenth time’s the charm?

One glaring statistic that has attached itself to Rublev is his 0-9 record in grand slam quarter-finals. No other player has lost their first nine major quarter-finals – a fact Rublev finds amusing more than anything else.

“I didn’t even know that I had 0-9 in quarter-finals and that I’m the only player who had this stat, I didn’t know, but it made me smile,” he says with a chuckle. “That at least somewhere I’m the first one.

“It’s tough to do if you have nine chances, not to make not and it made me feel a bit more loose or better inside, that at least one out of 10 I should make it. So probably the next quarter-final should be the good one. I’m not relaxed about it but in this case I see it in a positive way.”

No surprise if Rafa wins more slams

One of the most highly-anticipated occasions coming up on the men’s tour in 2024 is Nadal’s return from a hip injury and surgery that has sidelined him for almost a year. At the age of 37, and with 22 grand slams in his trophy cabinet, it’s quite remarkable the Spaniard put himself through months and months of rehab in order to give himself a shot at competing again.

“I’m not surprised because I think he and Novak, those kind of players who are playing to leave a mark in the history of tennis; while Novak is still playing I think Rafa will try until the end to play and try to win slams,” said Rublev, a long-time admirer of Nadal.

“And the same goes for Novak. If Rafa keeps playing and winning when he comes back, for sure Novak will keep playing until the end. They are playing for different things.

“We don’t know yet [where his level will be at], but how many times people would say, not just about Rafa, about all those three players, every time they were injured or down and losing matches everybody was saying, ‘Now the time of Roger or time of Rafa or time of Novak, is coming to an end’ and they always proved them wrong.

“So I will not be surprised if he will prove it again and wins more slams.”

Updated: December 21, 2023, 6:43 PM