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It spells Alexander Bublik, and yet it reads Jeffrey Lebowski. UbiTennis interviewed the 23-year-old Russian born tennis player who represents Kazakhstan last Monday, at the end of his first-round win against Monfils.
Bublik can be considered a press conference diesel engine, he starts slowly but then soars into a can’t miss one-man show. According to him, tennis is a simple game: “If you are missing the lines of the court, it means that you shouldn’t be aiming at them.” Above all, overthinking is a player’s greatest foe because “if you are overthinking, you will lose the match.” There is no strategy or premeditation even when it comes to his famous underarm serve, which, according to him, he doesn’t really use that often (“Basically, I did only one underarm serve per match in the last three matches”). On Monday, his attempt became an ace and maybe Monflis give him a glare, but we cannot be sure about that, because Bublik wasn’t looking at him, and he wouldn’t care anyway: “I don’t study my opponents, I focus on my game, and even when I hit an ace with an underarm serve, I don’t look at the opponent, I don’t care, so I don’t know how he reacted. In the end, the best strategy when you serve is to hit 25 aces in two sets, like I did in the match against Ramos in Hamburg [Editor’s Note: he actually had 17, which is still a lot].”
The underarm serve is a crucial aspect, a synthesis of Bublik’s zeitgeist. According to him, not only is tennis an easy sport in which tactical preparation isn’t needed, but it is also a game in which Lady Luck plays a big role. He said, “Luck amounts to 20-30 percent in tennis, because one day you hit a big serve to the T and you ace, another day the ball is out and you lose the match. Obviously, skills are important when a Top 10 player faces someone who is ranked 150. However, when two players with similar ranking face off, luck matters. 50, maybe 70 percent of my underarm serve comes down to luck. For example, I hit an ace (against Monfils) even though he had his feet on the baseline – I just got lucky with the timing of the shot.”
He also talked a bit about his victory against Monfils, and about what it means for him. “The worst part of facing Monfils is… well, facing Monfils! It wasn’t a good start for him, because even if I was a break down, he gave me the opportunity to get back into the match. I’m happy because towards the end of the fourth set, I was fighting against myself and I’m happy I was able to get through it. It’s my first Top 10 win, furthermore coming on clay, which is not my favourite surface. This match makes me think that I can fight and win against anyone on the dirt, except maybe Rafa or Dominic.”
However, the truth is that this win is important, for sure, but up to a point, because even this kind of result must be achieved without any sort of worries. Here’s what he said about the end of the match, when he won despite having lost the third set: “I don’t know how I got back into the match, maybe I’ve just grown up, I don’t know, whatever” (which, fittingly, seems to be his favourite English word).
It was already clear that the Kazakh is a peculiar person, but the facets revealed by this interview make him even more fascinating, because even his simplicity manifesto is the result of lived experiences and of reflection. His mindset has clear foundations and reasons, and the underarm serve is linked to clear choices as well: “I do it only from the left side, because it is the only spot where I can make a drop shot.”
When did Alexander stop worrying? “In 2018, when I fell as low as World N. 220, or similar [N. 253], and I felt like quitting tennis. This helped me during the pandemic as well. I was not stressed out because I cannot do anything about it. In the tennis world, you can see many people who break down mentally, in particular on the Challenger Tour or in the Futures. When you reach the ranking that allows you to play at Grand Slam Tournament, you are not completely under pressure and most importantly, you have achieved your goals.”
Ambition (or lack thereof) is another main theme for Bublik. When he was 16 years old, he told Monfils that he would win against him within the next three years, but today he takes it easy, mindful of the vicissitudes of the past seasons. “I’m not ambitious, you must have goals but without being ambitious, because if you fail, you could become an alcoholic or a neurotic. This is why I don’t spend 15 hours a day training and I don’t sleep with my racquet. Great people like Roger, Rafa, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, they have reached the top, but we are not talking about many people, the vast majority of people don’t get those results.”
Bublik’s long-term goal is to lead an ordinary life, to have a wife and children, but at the moment he talks a lot about the need of an elder guide. This is another sign that acting indifferently is a tool that he uses to learn how to “control what I can control. I know that if my opponent hits a winner on the break point, I cannot do much about that.”
His sensei is a 75-year-old friend whose name he does not mention – his biggest quality is to point him to other venerable mentors, those you can find in the right books. “I don’t read for fun, I read in order to find an answer; for example, the mental coach is important, too, but I think that you could find the answers you need in books. You only need someone older and wiser than you are to suggest what to read. I read a couple of books a month. I’m reading Goethe’s ‘Faust’ these days for the second time”.
Even in this case, the answer is more complex than the one that could be expected of someone who doesn’t care, and according to the Bublik Manifesto, the relationship between Mentor and Telemachus must follow a well-defined path: “I don’t believe in giving advice, you have to show how to do it – smart people to whom I talk, they don’t give me advice but rather an idea, a thought to work with.” There are many different aspects to the replies that Bublik gave us, and perhaps his approach to conversations this way hides a strategy. He doesn’t want to tell us who he really is, even if we know what he is, i.e. a great tennis player and a very interesting person.
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