The crowd filling the stands at the Burswood Dome in Perth to experience a fun day of the Hopman Cup suddenly fell silent when they saw one of the players enter the court with a black eye and bruised body. “I got into a fight in Moscow but I'm fine, I was able to survive. I won the fight. It was only a small problem. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, "said the tennis player to calm the fear of the people. That player was Marat Safin, icon of Russian tennis who became number 1 in the world for nine weeks between 2000 and 2001 and champion of the US Open and the Australian Open. His explosive nature, which they say led him to destroy more than a thousand rackets throughout his career, was his most recognizable trait.
A year before him, another Soviet managed to reach the top of the ATP ranking for the first time, Yevgueni Kafelnikov. His indomitable character was also one of his main attributes both on and off the courts. He won in Australia, Roland Garros and was Olympic champion in Sydney 2000, but his comings and goings follow him without letting him enter the Tennis Hall of Fame. One day, after several months without being seen at any tournaments of the circuit, he appeared sitting at a table in a London casino. "I have retired, but I have not yet officially announced it," he explained to a journalist who discovered him during the game. "Many people still believe that I am taking a break, but I consider that my time in tennis is over," he added.
On June 8, 2017, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev visited the RCTB-1899 in a very special way. Both, based in Barcelona, decided to join the club family as players. During their first tour of the facilities as members they could not help but stand in front of the 'Wall of Champions' where all the winners of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell since its first edition in 1953 appear. Their immediate reaction was to point to the poster of his countryman Marat Safin winning the 2000 edition. "We want to follow his footsteps and also would like to be on this beautiful wall," Khachanov said at the time. "Yes, Marat is a model for Russian tennis players and it would be a dream to be able to follow his footsteps," Rublev added.
15 ATP titles among the three
Following the footsteps of Kafelnikov and Safin, Russian tennis is looking for its third man capable of achieving world leadership. Along the way, three more players managed to enter the select group of the best 10 in the world: Nikolay Davydenko (3), Mikhail Youzhny (8) and Andrei Chesnokov (9). Now, another racket has appeared to postulate his candidacy for the new reign: Daniil Medvedev (4). The Muscovite was the great revelation of last season, in which he managed to complete a sensational second half of the year that catapulted him to world number 4 and to dispute the Nitto ATP Finals in London. His dominance was such that he came to play six consecutive finals - including the US Open where he fell to Rafa Nadal - with three titles to his name.
Medvedev (1996), Khachanov (1996) and Rublev (1997) belong to a new golden generation called to be the great national hope of Russian sport, very affected in recent years by the numerous doping scandals. The three, also with an energetic character on the courts, already know what it is to face the best players in the world and add, for the moment, a total of 15 titles and 23 inals.
They have more and more prominence and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell is a key date in their calendars. Of the trio, the only one who does not live in the city (but is 500 km away in Monaco) has been the one who has managed to go further. That player is Daniil Medvedev, finalist in last year's edition. The enormous physical effort he had to go through to reach the final prevented him from resisting a tough Dominic Thiem who took his first title in two sets, 6-4, 6-0.
For their part, Khachanov and Rublev already know what it is to win a match on the courts of their club, but they are eager to go further in the tournament they consider 'home'. Every time they advance they do not stop receiving praise and hugs from people, now friends. Karen even has his good contacts in the kitchen to prepare the Russian food he likes best. In addition, Rublev is coached by Fernando Vicente, a former historic tennis player for the RCTB who is still linked to the club to this day, defending his colours in senior team tournaments.
It remains to be seen which of the three will manage to put their name on the ‘Wall of Champions’. What is certain is that they will give a lot of show on the clay to achieve it.