You never know what you’re going to get when you watch Alexander Bublik play tennis. And that’s exactly the way he likes it.
The Russian-born Kazakhstani is one of the unique players inside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. The World No. 51, who reached his first two ATP Tour finals in 2019, is not afraid to stray from the norm.
“I’m a gambler,” Bublik told ATPTour.com. “I like this feeling when it’s 50-50. When I’m serving full power on a second serve at deuce, I feel fear. I feel the game, I feel nice. When I hit that ace in the third-set tie-break at five-all on a second serve, I have an adrenaline boost in my body and it’s awesome… That’s the kind of person I am.”
When most players on the ATP Tour zig, Bublik zags. There is no such thing as “playing it safe” in his mind. From sneaking in underarm serves and massive second serves to carving drop shots from crazy court positions, the 23-year-old enjoys risk. Sometimes, it works brilliantly.
At last year’s Hall of Fame Open in Newport, where he made his first ATP Tour final, Bublik played Viktor Troicki in the second round. The Serbian led 4-1 when he rushed the net, hitting a backhand volley deep into Bublik’s side of the court. Instead of moving his feet to hit a normal passing shot, Bublik hit a forward-facing tweener lob to win the point, landing him on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. He rallied to triumph in three sets.
“If something is boring, go have guts to hit the second serve at five-all and make it,” Bublik said. “Someone can say it’s stupid. Yeah, it’s stupid. But I have the balls to do it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the way I like to play.”
Sometimes, that doesn’t work as well. Bublik suffered 16 opening-match losses last season. The Kazakhstani knows that the key to his game is finding a happy medium between being bold and being careless.
“If you can match consistency with good talent and hit some amazing shots with some really risky shots, then you become a good player. Let’s say Nick Kyrgios, he’s good at it. He knows where you have to put [those shots] and at what time, especially,” Bublik said. “Then there are guys like Gael Monfils. He’s a consistent player, but once in a while he’s going to surprise you and maybe it’s at six-all in the tie-break. Gael Monfils is doing that unbelievably, the same as Nick does.
“This is what I’m looking for and what I’m trying to balance in my game, so I can win more matches by surprising opponents.”
Bublik tends to go big or go home. During the ATP Tour’s suspension due to COVID-19, he has worked on giving himself another option, something to fall back on when his shotmaking isn’t fully firing.
“I’ve been working on my second serve lately. To be a top player that I want to be — I want to be Top 20, maybe Top 10 — you can’t rush your second serve all the time. That was one of the main parts of my development since Indian Wells was cancelled,” Bublik said. “I stopped using my second serve at full power so often. I still have it, I’ll still be surprising guys with it, but I won’t do it all the time like I used to do it for like half a year. To be the player I want to be and not just some one-match guy, I have to be consistent.”
Quarantine started with a lot of “chilling”, from relaxing in bed to playing video games on his computer. Then Bublik began to think and evaluate what he has accomplished as well as what he’d like to achieve.
“Quarantine has been a good time for me. I had time to think, I had time to go through some things. To be where I want to be takes more than just entertaining yourself and just work. You’ve got to be disciplined on court. When you have big matches coming up, like playing in the third round of a Slam or big tournaments, you have to be consistent to beat Top 10 players,” Bublik said. “I think I’m missing some parts of my game, but I have a chance to go through it, to realise that and slowly start working on it.”
Bublik believes as tennis returns, “we’re going to have a new Grand Slam winner, 100 per cent.” He thinks it is far more likely to happen at the US Open, assuming Rafael Nadal competes at Roland Garros.
The Kazakhstani thinks a key for all players is going to be finding a balance, something Bublik has become plenty familiar with. He is set to compete in qualifying at the Western & Southern Open next week.
“I won’t be nervous. But there are guys who are going to be very tight at the beginning,” Bublik said. “The most important thing is to have the right balance between being super relaxed and being super tight.”