Andrey Rublev won his third tour-level title of the season on Sunday, defeating World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and a boisterous Serbian crowd to win the Serbia Open for the first time. At the ATP 250 clay-court event, the second seed dug deep against Djokovic, hitting with relentless power and intensity to outlast the home favourite 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-0. The 24-year-old saved five set points in the second set to force a tie-break, and while he couldn’t stop Djokovic from tying the match, Rublev regrouped in the decider, looking the fitter of the two, to win after two hours and 29 minutes.
“It is big to play against you and share the court for the second time,” Rublev said to Djokovic during the trophy ceremony. “I hope we have more battles. I feel so great here, it is a very nice city. It feels really special. I want to say a big thanks to all the spectators for supporting all the players all week. To see full crowds again is special for all of us.”
Rublev now has the same number of tour-level titles as Spaniard Rafael Nadal in 2022, having won titles in Marseille and Dubai in February. With his first win over a World No. 1, the World No. 8 evened up his record against Djokovic at 1-1, avenging his loss at the Nitto ATP Finals last season.
Djokovic was playing in his third tournament of the season, and he was attempting to win his first title of the year against Rublev. The 34-year-old battled past Laslo Djere, Miomir Kecmanovic, and Karen Khachanov in three sets as he worked his way back into form after losing in the quarterfinals in Dubai and a shock second-round loss in Monte Carlo to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. However, the top seed’s time on the court against Rublev eventually caught up with him.
Rublev quickly found his range in an entertaining final, demonstrating good footwork to dictate on his aggressive forehand. The second seed kept Djokovic deep behind the baseline, cutting at the ball with large cuts to pull the Serbian around the court. In the first set, the World No. 8 broke Djokovic twice and saved one break point to take the lead.
Rublev would have been eager to pull away at the start of the second set, fueled by confidence, but Djokovic had other ideas. He started hitting with more depth and began to win backhand exchanges to take a 2-0 lead. Rublev, on the other hand, showed his fighting qualities by quickly levelling the score at 2-2 before saving two set points in a mammoth service game at 4-5 to hold. At 5-5, Djokovic fended off a break point before Rublev found big serves and heavy forehands at the crucial moment to save three more set points on serve and force a tie-break. The Serbian, on the other hand, would not be denied, storming to a 5/2 lead in the tie-break.
The World No. 1’s effort in the second set seemed to catch up with him in the decider, as Djokovic faded quickly in the third set, unable to match Rublev’s intensity. In the third set, the second seed continued to strike the ball aggressively, but Djokovic was no longer able to respond, and Rublev soared to victory. Djokovic now has a 37-6 record in Serbia, having won the Serbia Open twice in 2009 and 2011, as well as the Belgrade Open last season.