Russian to face Mannarino for title

Andrey Rublev arrived at the VTB Kremlin Cup this week with a 0-4 main draw record at the event, but the Moscow native will compete for the trophy at his hometown tournament on Sunday.

The sixth seed recovered from 3-5 down in the opening set en route to a 7-5, 6-4 victory against two-time champion Marin Cilic in front of a passionate home crowd. Rublev is just the second man to defeat Cilic in 13 matches in the Russian capital. Cilic claimed back-to-back titles at this event in 2014 and 2015.

“I am insanely happy to reach the finals at home in Moscow… This tournament evokes my childhood. For me, going out to play in the finals tomorrow is incredible,” said Rublev.

Rublev will look to add his name to a rich history of Russian winners in Moscow. Last year, Karen Khachanov ended a nine-year wait for a home champion, but the tournament has been won by a Russian player on 15 occasions since the tournament began in 1990.

“I immediately texted [Khachanov] after I left the court, ‘Tell me everything you know, because I also want to win,’” said Rublev.

With both players looking comfortable on serve in the opening stages, Cilic made the first move in the eighth game. The 31-year-old, who earned his 500th tour-level win this week, played with depth and overpowered Rublev from the baseline to earn a 5-3 lead.

But Rublev responded immediately, reeling off four straight games to take the set. After taking advantage of double faults and forehand errors to break serve, the Russian earned the opportunity to serve for the set himself two games later with a flicked passing shot up the line. With 51 minutes on the clock, Rublev let out a huge roar as Cilic dumped a crosscourt backhand into the net to end the set.

Rublev continued to absorb Cilic’s powerful game from the baseline in the second set and made the decisive move in the ninth game. Unable to break through the Russian’s defence, Cilic fired multiple backhand errors to surrender his serve. Rublev closed out the match with four straight points, taking time away from his opponent with early strikes to reach his fourth ATP Tour final.

“It was a tense and nervous match, so it was insanely hard for me and him,” said Rublev. “He had every chance to win the first set. This is tennis. Someone leads with a break, but at a crucial moment can’t win. In an equal fight, I was able to turn the tide of the match and win.”

Rublev improves to 2-1 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Cilic. The 21-year-old, who improves to 31-17 at tour-level this year, also beat the Croat at the Miami Open presented by Itau in March. Rublev will face Adrian Mannarino of France for the first time in the championship match.

Mannarino advanced to a personal-best third ATP Tour final of the season, beating Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-4. The Frenchman, who is yet to drop a set this week, converted two of three break points to advance after 75 minutes.

Mannarino is through to his second straight final in the Russian capital and will look to go one step further than 2018, when he fell to Khachanov in the championship match. The World No. 44 improves to 10-3 at this tournament with his fifth victory in nine FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters against Seppi.

“That was a really consistent match… I was trying to make Andreas work as hard as I could and I think that it worked out pretty well,” said Mannarino. “I was serving well in the most important moments and that helped me a lot. I just hope I will be as consistent [tomorrow as I was] today.”

Mannarino will be aiming to capture his second ATP Tour trophy after lifting his maiden crown at the Libema Open in June. This will be Mannarino’s second championship match in four weeks, following his runner-up finish at the Huajin Securities Zhuhai Championships last month. 

Former champion Seppi was bidding to reach his second final in Moscow. The 2012 titlist has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his six most recent appearances at the ATP 250 event (2012-‘14, ‘17-‘19).