Russian tennis star Andrey Rublev says the presence of legendary Swiss icon Roger Federer helped ease the pressure on him at the Shanghai Masters after joking about his effect on fans in China. Rublev beat Ugo Humbert in straight sets to storm into the semi-finals of the event where Federer wowed fans after a stirring return to the court.
Even in retirement, Federer proved he's still one of the biggest drawcards in world tennis as the 20-time grand slam champion was honoured for his contribution to the sport. It was the first time fans in China had the opportunity to pay their respects to the 42-year-old in person since he retired in 2022.
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Federer was presented with an Icon Athlete Award in a glitzy ceremony that also featured Chinese women's great legend Li Na and the country's top-ranked male star, Zhang Zhizhen. Federer lapped up the adulation of the fans that packed the stands to get a glimpse of him, posing for photos and taking selfies, before taking to the microphone to share his love of China and praise the growth of tennis in the country.
“It’s been great to see tennis grow in China. One icon is standing here and a future superstar in the making there,” Federer said about Li and Zhang, the latter of whom this year became the first home player to reach the fourth round at Shanghai's Masters 1000 event.
Federer won the Shanghai Masters in 2014 and 2017 and enjoyed a 23-6 record in the event. He also triumphed twice against long-time rival Rafa Nadal to win ATP Finals titles in 2006 and 2007 in Shanghai. The Swiss maestro has been a massively popular figure in China and once famously surprised a group of Shanghai commuters when he hopped on a Metro train to travel to the Masters 1000 event in 2017.
"Ever since I showed up here as a teenager in 2002, maybe I even had a ponytail, I looked different, I played different, but I got so many fans, I feel like, from the first moment I came," said Federer. "I feel like I got the most incredible support here in Shanghai and in China. I've been very fortunate to play here for so many years."
Andrey Rublev says crowd was only interested in Roger Federer
Federer was in the stands to watch Rublev's 6-2, 6-3 demolition of Humbert that set up a showdown with Grigor Dimitrov in the last-four. Rublev joked that the presence of Federer actually took a lot of the pressure off because the crowd only seemed interested in the Swiss great.
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“No, he didn’t distract me at all," Rublev responded to a question about Federer watching from the stands. "All the people stopped focusing on the match because they were only focusing on Roger. So they weren’t watching any more tennis, they were watching only Roger.”
The win saw Rublev avenge an upset loss to Humbert in Beijing earlier this month, leaving him with a 3-2 advantage in career head-to-heads between the pair. It also sees Rublev move into his second Masters semi-final of the season, having won the title in Monte Carlo in April.
“The match in Beijing, both of us played great tennis, and I had chances. I was serving for the match. He was playing really well that match, and I tried to analyse what I did wrong that match,” added Rublev, who hit 14 winners on his way to the straight-sets win.
“I tried to not make the same mistakes today and I did really well. I am happy to win in straight sets. I played a great match and I am happy to win today.”
Rublev's semi-final opponent Dimitrov said he played some of the best tennis of his career in the 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 quarter-final victory over Chile's Nicolas Jarry. The 18th seed from Bulgaria did not face a single break point in a clinical display. Saturday's other semi-final will see Poland's 16th seed Hubert Hurkacz face off against American 26th-seed, Sebastian Korda.
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