Alexander Bublik Proves His Happiness In Reaching European Open Finale

Alexander Bublik (photo: Tennium/Belga)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 21, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Alexander Bublik has gone about his business this week by playing solid and powerful tennis at the ATP 250 European Open in Antwerp, Belgium. While the No. 3 seed from Kazakhstan has limited his trademark tweeners and underarm serves in favor of capitalizing on his booming serves and effective drop shots, there’s always an element of surprise and theatrics to Bublik’s game. It’s what makes him endearing to tennis audiences around the world. It’s what makes him happy, too.

On Saturday afternoon, the No. 36 Bublik entertained a sold-out Lotto Arena crowd for 84 minutes and defeated 127th-ranked qualifier Maximilian Marterer of Germany, 6-4, 6-4, to advance to Sunday’s title match against No. 4 seed Arthur Fils of France, who upset World No. 7 and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4).

The 26-year-old Russian-born Bublik came up with two sets of great tennis and played all of the important points well, which accounted for 12 aces and 33 winners. Plus, he won points on all but three of his first serves. It was Bublik’s second straight win over Marterer this season following an earlier straight-set victory at Wimbledon. Saturday’s loss denied Marterer, 28, from reaching the first tour-level final of his career as well as returning to the Top 100 next week following five consecutive straight-set wins in Antwerp (two in qualifying and three in the main draw).

By the slimmest of margins — a service break in each set — Bublik is through to his ninth ATP final overall and second one this season following his success on grass earlier this season by winning the title at Halle. Bublik wrapped up his 21st win of the season on his third match-point opportunity with a solid ace out wide. It was his 16th career win against lefties. He celebrated by taking a bow in each direction of the arena complete with a big, wide grin on his face. His fans rewarded him with plenty of applause.

“I played Maxie back at Wimbledon this year and it was a very tough match. I came up with the same game plan, to stay solid, be focused and use my experience — and it worked out in the crucial moments. I’m happy with the win,” Bublik said in his on-court interview .

“When you’re in the finals you’re always happy. Even if I played badly and I was in the finals, I would be happy. Of course, I’m happy.”

Fils wins grip-and-rip battle over Tsitsipas

World No. 7 and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and fourth-seeded challenger Arthur Fils played grip-and-rip tennis for two hours Saturday evening, which included a lengthy, 57-minute first-set ending in a tie-break. Each put up impressive numbers and both were rewarded with thunderous applause from the Lotto Arena fans.

By the end of their semifinal, it was the 19-year-old French teenager Fils who seized the moment and won the semifinal battle, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), to capture his first Top-10 win on a hard court and move into Sunday’s final against No. 3 seed Alexander Bublik. The loss denied Tsitsipas from advancing to his second ATP Tour singles final of the year and the 28th tour-level final of his career.

The humble and hungry Fils is the youngest European Open finalist in the tournament’s eight-year history. He won on his first match-point opportunity by finishing off a five-shot rally with a volley winner coming into the net — his 34th winner overall — that closed out the double tie-break victory.

After making his main-draw tour-level debut at the Rolex Paris Masters less than a year ago, then starting 2023 ranked outside the Top 250, Fils is one victory from garnering his second ATP Tour title of the season — his first came in Lyon — as well as breaking into the Top 35 for the first time.

Fils, who finished with nine aces, saved eight of nine break points and outpointed Tsitsipas 87-84, was unable to serve out the match in the second set, ahead 5-4. However, he recovered nicely in the tie-break. “I was very tight and my first serve just wouldn’t go [in] — I was trying to ace on every serve — so I said maybe it would be tough,” he said. “He had some great points and I made some bad mistakes. … But I was very happy with how I played in the tie-break and now I will try to bring my best in the final.”

Earlier this week, Tsitsipas praised Fils in press. The Greek star said: “He’s a rising star, a very good player. I had a chance to speak to him a little bit this week. We’ve had a good time together. He has personality and he’s very serious in his work, which pushes me, too. I like that.”

While Fils looks to be a cinch to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals next month in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Tsitsipas remains in solid contention for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. He’s currently in sixth place.

Tsitsipas brothers to play for doubles title

Following the disappoint of his semifinal singles loss Saturday evening, Stefanos Tsitsipas returned to Center Court and with his younger brother, Petros, won their third match together of this week to reach the European Open doubles final. It is their first title match together at Tour level. They defeated Romain Arneodo of Monaco and Tristan-Samuel Weissborn of Austria, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 13-11, in an hour and 44 minutes.

On Sunday afternoon, the Tsitsipas brothers will face Ariel Behar of Uruguay and Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic in the final.

Around the European Open

Saturday’s European Open results

Sunday’s European Open order of play

By the numbers

Stefanos Tsitsipas, now 25, the top seed this week at the European Open, is the youngest of 30 players to have scored wins over Novak Djokovic (2018 Toronto, third round), Roger Federer (2019 Australian Open, fourth round) and Rafael Nadal (2019 Madrid, semifinals), sweeping the Big Three before turning 21.

“Quotable …”

“Tennis is tennis, there are a lot of good guys here who can play. I don’t know whether some players underperformed or their opponents overperformed, but my own focus is on my own game. These things [upsets] are going to happen, they happen on a weekly basis. My job is to not allow that [to happen] as much as I can from my end, be more dominant. I need to hang in there and show I’m not as weak as they think I am.”

— World No. 7 and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who was asked this week in press whether he was surprised by the number of seeded players losing in the early rounds of the tournament.