Who Needs Practice? Not Alexander Bublik

by Msnbctv news staff

WIMBLEDON, England — Grigor Dimitrov said he had come to Wimbledon, where he reached the semifinals in 2014, “with great hopes just to play some more matches just to get myself a little bit of a rhythm.”

Dimitrov’s opponent, Alexander Bublik, had other plans. “You don’t get much of a rhythm with him,” Dimitrov lamented.

The 38th-ranked Bublik defeated the 18th-seeded Dimitrov, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4), in a second-round match on Court 12 with his signature game of extremes, pounding 34 aces while also keeping Dimitrov off-balance with occasional off-speed shots. Coming into Wimbledon, Bublik led the tour with 457 aces, well ahead of Reilly Opelka’s 331. Through two matches at Wimbledon, Bublik has added 50 more aces to his tally, all without practicing the shot extensively.

“In the past year and a half, I was not serving more than 20 balls in practice,” Bublik said. “I’m not doing baskets — I’m scared to injure my shoulder.”

Bublik’s light practice regimen has hardly hurt his results this year. After reaching his first Masters quarterfinals in singles in Miami and Madrid, Bublik and his partner, Andrey Golubev, reached the French Open men’s doubles final last month. It was, by Bublik’s reckoning, “a pure accident.”

“Before the tournament, I told Golubev that we’ve got to finish quick because I have a train to Stuttgart,” Bublik said, referring to the ATP tournament in Germany that took place during the second week of the French Open. “No joke — I had tickets to Stuttgart on the third-round day. And then, out of nowhere, we made finals. It’s just a big accident. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not.”

Bublik, 24, said he hadn’t seen the French Open doubles final “as a big match” until the pair was within reach of the title. “That was the first time I felt a little pressure — when we were serving for the match,” he said. “But I don’t treat doubles like professional tennis, in my opinion. Especially if you’re a singles player and you’re OK in singles, doubles is just for fun, to make some extra money, hang around, make some jokes.”

Bublik’s jokes caught the eye of John McEnroe as he called the final for American television, at one point calling out, “Look at Bublik!” as the lanky Kazakh crouched behind the baseline during a mid-rally point.

Bublik’s success was no accident for the Kazakh Tennis Federation, which invested in Bublik from a young age and persuaded him to represent Kazakhstan instead of his native Russia. Along with Elena Rybakina, who beat Serena Williams to reach the French Open quarterfinals, Bublik and Golubev’s run to the final was a high-water mark for a country that Bublik said was experiencing a boom in tennis.

While his power has proved paramount, Bublik is better known for his off-kilter offerings on court. The second-seeded Daniil Medvedev, who played Bublik in the first round of the French Open, said Bublik was “super different from everybody — and that’s what makes him so interesting.” He recalled an underarm serve Bublik had hit while down break point in Paris. “He goes for crazy shots maybe when there is no need to,” said Medvedev, who grew up playing with Bublik in youth tennis events in Russia.

“He has had a crazy talent, crazy touch since he was a young kid,” Medvedev said. “We knew each other for a long time. He was always going for these types of shots.” More than his talent, Medvedev said, Bublik’s willingness to break the mold despite the consequences is what stands out and makes him likable.

“So many players nowadays — maybe including me — think, ‘If I’m going to do this, there is going to be 10 comments after the match that I shouldn’t have done it,’” Medvedev said. “We all think about it. He doesn’t.”

Bublik, who is scheduled to play the 14th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz in the third round on Saturday, said that his strategy is staying himself.

Given his irreverence and unpredictability, not to mention his big serve, the player to whom Bublik draws the most comparisons is Nick Kyrgios.

Kyrgios, who does not warm to many of his fellow tour players, embraced being likened to a player who he said was “not conforming to what the sport wants you to play like.” And Kyrgios is a fan in return.

“He beat a hell of a player today — Dimitrov has had so much success here,” Kyrgios said of Bublik’s win. “Playing the tennis he’s playing, which is exciting, he’s going to pack out stands.”

Calling himself “an old soul on tour,” Kyrgios, 26, said it was “good to see another guy like that kind of take my place, when I do eventually go.”

He added a prediction: “‘Thank God Kyrgios is gone?’ You’re going to have to deal with Bublik now. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”

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