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The Bank of China Hong Kong Tennis Open 2024 saw the class of world No. 5 Andrey Rublev shine through in front of a sold-out Centre Court crowd.  He justified his top billing by withstanding good friend Emil Ruusuvuori’s determined effort, as he raised his level of play at the business end of both sets with a sustained ground attack to break his Finnish counterpart once in each set, winning the final 6-4 6-4 to capture his 15th career ATP singles title.

Guests of Honour at the Trophy Presentation Ceremony were (L-R): Mr. Oscar Chow, Chairman of the BOCHKTO 2024 Steering Committee; Mr Sun Yu, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited; The Hon. John Lee Ka-chiu, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; Mr. Michael Cheng, President of the Hong Kong, China Tennis Association; and Mr. Luiz Carvalho, BOCHKTO 2024 Tournament Director.

With the win, Rublev joins an Honour Roll that includes a plethora of world No. 1s and major winners the likes of Rod Laver (1973), Ken Rosewall (1976-77), Jimmy Connors (1979), Ivan Lendl (1980), Andres Gomez (1984-85), Pat Cash (1990), Richard Krajicek (1991), Jim Courier (1992), Pete Sampras (1993, 1996), Michael Chang (1994-95, 1997), Andre Agassi (1999), Marcelo Rios (2001), and Juan Carlos Ferrero (2002).  The ATP event in Hong Kong has a rich history, dating all the way back to 1973.

However, playing his first tournament of the season, Rublev did not have it all his way, especially in the earlier rounds.  In his opening match against 103rd-ranked British qualifier Liam Broady, patches of inconsistent play saw him squander 7 of 10 break points, which gave his opponent a window of opportunity to fight back.  Rublev’s emotions were threatening to boil over at times, but he managed to keep them in check and relied on his vaunted forehand strike to prevail in the end 6-4 7-6(8).

“First match after preseason you want to start well, you want to show a great game to everyone,” said a frustrated Rublev.  “I was a bit tight.  I am the top seed, the higher expectations. I felt pretty stressed, those things sometimes can make a huge difference.  Hopefully that feeling of stress and uncertainty passes, I know now what to expect tomorrow.”

Against rising 19-year-old French phenom, Arthur Fils, the highest-ranked teenager in the world at No. 36, Rublev never faced a break point in the opening set and controlled the narrative with some big hitting off both wings to frustrate his young opponent, winning it 6-4.  Fils, however, sensing the urgency, played with more aggression in the second set and outgunned the top seed from the back of the court to take it 6-1 with a pair of breaks to level proceedings at a set apiece.

Rublev regrouped and came out for the third set with renewed determination, as he broke the Frenchman bright and early to jump out to a 3-0 lead.  Fils did not back down and continued to give Rublev trouble with his superb court coverage and shot-making ability.  The top seed was forced to save a couple of break points in the fifth game to go up 4-1 and was made to fend off another in the seventh game in order to hold for 5-2.  Fans by now were on the edge of their seats, but the highly captivating end-to-end action finally concluded with Rublev sealing the clinching break in the eighth game to win the quarterfinal showdown 6-4 1-6 6-2.

In the semifinal, Rublev faced another fast-improving teenager, China’s 18-year-old Jerry Shang, who produced some of the best wins in his career in the previous three days.  In the first round, he saved a pair of match points late in the third set tiebreak to beat world No. 33 Laslo Djere 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(8).  Then, against world No. 50 Botic van de Zandschulp in the last sixteen, Shang was again match point down but dug deep to play some inspired tennis to win a three-and-a-half-hour battle 6-7(5) 7-6(2) 7-6(2). 

In the quarterfinals, he faced the formidable world No. 16 Frances Tiafoe, who possesses every shot, trick or otherwise, in the book.  The American had won their previous two meetings, once in the second round of the Australian Open 2023 and the other in the round of sixteen at Washington, both in straight sets.  Tiafoe has previously vanquished the likes of Rafael Nadal, Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, to name a few.

On match day, however, Shang, a wildcard entry who is ranked No. 183, came out firing fearless on all cylinders and blindsided the No. 3 seed with sustained consistency in all facets of his game, including spectacular down the line winners and the ability to seemingly get to every ball, to stun the world No. 16 with a break in each set 6-4 6-4 to secure the biggest win of his fledgling career.

Shang took that momentum and started the Rublev semifinal by breaking the top seed in the opening game and kept his opponent at bay by holding serve the rest of the way, highlighted by a thumping ace down the tee at the end, to take the all-important first set 6-4 against the world No. 5.

Like Tiafoe before him, Rublev was also initially blindsided by Shang’s incredible level of play, but the No. 1 seed responded swiftly by conjuring a pair of service breaks to win the second set 6-2 to send proceedings to a decider against the left-handed Shang.  After saving three break points in the opening game of the deciding set, Rublev broke Shang to love in the eighth game before serving out the match with conviction 4-6 6-2 6-3 to claim his place in Sunday’s final.

After reaching his maiden ATP semifinal, Shang remarked: “It’s a huge confidence boost, everything about this week is a positive. I’m heading towards the right path and we’ll see in Melbourne.  Looking back, this is always going to be the special one and hopefully I can make more memories like this very soon.”

In the final played in front of a sold-out Centre Court crowd at Victoria Park, Rublev exhibited fantastic anticipation right from the jump, wrong-footing Emil Ruusuvuori with backhand down the lines and corner-to-corner inside-out forehands at key moments, and winning those engaging rallies when it mattered most to take the opening set 6-4 with a lone break of serve.  Swinging freely towards the business end of the match, Rublev hit a slew of ferocious groundstrokes to wear down Ruusuvuori’s defense, breaking the Finn in the penultimate game before holding deservedly for a 6-4 6-4 win to secure his 15th career ATP singles title.

“It’s a great feeling to start my season with a title, I’ve enjoyed my week here a lot.  It’s been amazing, the city, the tournament, it’s been perfect on and off court.  It’s a special moment for me and my team,” said Rublev, as he waved to his hoard of screaming Hong Kong fans.  His unannounced, surprise visit to the BOCHK booth on Saturday night was near pandemonium, as a flock of selfie and autograph seekers zoomed in on its target en masse.

Hong Kong’s own rising star, 19-year-old Coleman Wong, was given a maindraw wildcard to compete in his maiden ATP Tour-level event.   Wong had his moments and was by no means overpowered by an opponent who beat a pair world No. 1s in Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz last year, but 25th-ranked Lorenzo Musetti‘s class shone through in the end, as the Italian sixth seed advanced to the second round with a workmanlike 6-4 7-5 victory.

Wong: “I’d give myself a 7 or 8 out of 10.  It was a really close match and with the crowd mostly behind me.  I’m really happy I had the opportunity to play Lorenzo, he’s beaten Novak and many great players, and I made him suffer a little bit!  Especially in my hometown, where I started playing tennis, this really means a lot to me. I’ve been coming to train here since I was five. It’s quite emotional.”

Wong is not sticking around to rest on his laurels though, as the Hong Kong No. 1 is off to Thailand for the Nonthaburi Challenger, which begins Monday.

Two local players, Jack Wong and Wong Tsz Fu, also received wildcards to compete in the qualifying draw.  Despite the ranking discrepancy, 18-year-old Wong Tsz Fu fought valiantly to stave off 6 of 8 break points before ATP No. 75 Taro Daniel wrapped up the opening set 6-0.  He then gave a much better account of himself in the latter half of the match before the qualifying top seed from Japan moved on with a 6-0 6-3 victory.

Hong Kong’s Davis Cup stalwart, Jack Wong, had his opponent Terence Atmane on the ropes with two break chances in the sixth game and four more in the eighth game of the opening set but the 144th-ranked Frenchman, who claimed Challenger titles in Guangzhou and Zhangjiagang last year, managed to save them all to go through in straight sets 6-4 6-2.

In the doubles final, the second-seeded El Salvadorian-Croatian combination of Marcelo Arevalo and Mate Pavic took the opening set in a tight tiebreak and went on to make the clinching break in the ninth game of the second set to beat Belgian No. 1 seed Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen 7-6(3) 6-4. 

Local youngsters from HKCTA’s training programmes had the chance to trade shots and talk shop to their ATP heroes Frances Tiafoe, Marcelo Arevalo, Sadio Doumbia, and Fabien Reboul at Kids’ Day held at the nearby Chinese Recreation Club.  Borna Gojo, a three-time singles All-American from Wake Forest University, also hosted a clinic at the Causeway Bay Sports Ground courts for a group of NTS players. Inspiring tomorrow’s stars of the future is what we all do.

ATP 250 Bank of China Hong Kong Tennis Open
Victoria Park, Causeway Bay
January 1-7, 2024

Men’s Singles

First Round
(1)Andrey Rublev – Bye

Second Round
(1)Andrey Rublev d. (q)Liam Broady (GBR) 6-4 7-6(8)

(1)Andrey Rublev d. (8)Arthur Fils (FRA) 6-4 1-6 6-2

(1)Andrey Rublev d. (WC)Jerry Shang (CHN) 4-6 6-2 6-3

(1)Andrey Rublev d. Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN) 6-4 6-4

Men’s Doubles

First Round
(2)Marcelo Arevalo/Mate Pavic (ESA/CRO) d. Francisco Cabral/Henry Patten (POR/GBR) 6-4 7-6(3)

(2)Marcelo Arevalo/Mate Pavic (ESA/CRO) d. Pedro Cachin/Francisco Cerundolo (ARG) 6-2 6-2

(2)Marcelo Arevalo/Mate Pavic (ESA/CRO) d. Ariel Behar/Adam Pavlasek (URU/CZE) 5-7 6-3 [14-12]

(2)Marcelo Arevalo/Mate Pavic (ESA/CRO) d. (1)Sander Gille/Joran Vliegen (BEL) 7-6(3) 6-4