“Djokovic is a gentleman, but he’s not cool. Monfils and Dimitrov, they’re cool” – a conversation with Alexandr Bublik
NEW YORK – With apologies to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Alexandr Bublik is one of the men of the moment. With an almost completely melted ice cream that he devoured in the first few minutes of the interview, the Russian-born Kazakh is very clear about his likes and dislikes: if he plays tennis, it’s because his father forced him to, and if asked to define a “cool” player, he would never think of Novak Djokovic: his men are Gael Monfils and Grigor Dimitrov.
“Gael, Gael. He is the definition. He is chill, he likes the crowd. I define ‘cool’ as Gael Monfils. And Grigor Dimitrov,” Bublik said during a revealing conversation with CLAY in New York, a couple of weeks before his unusual decision to try to win a point in the Metz final by hitting the ball with the handle of his racket. He lost the point, of course, and also the final to Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego.
Bublik has some very clear ideas: it is probably not advisable to go out partying with him, but it is right to decide your child’s life at the age of two. That’s what happened to him, when his father determined he would be a tennis player, a life he hated for most of his career. He’s only now making friends with the racquet. Even clay.
“Do you mind if I eat ice cream?”, he says at the beginning of the interview.
How to say no to him.
In early August his first child was born, and everything changed for Bublik.
“I don’t want my son to be a tennis player,” says Bublik. His father gave him a racquet at the age of two, and never asked him if he even liked it.
– How come you don’t like to play in such a lovely surface like clay? Is it because of the dirty socks?
– I just don’t like it, but nowadays I don’t care. I like to play wherever. I really enjoy it. If it’s clay court, is clay court. I changed the approach in many things since my son was born. At the end of the day is my job and I have to do it properly.
– In which aspects did your life change?
– Tough to explain. Do you guys have kids?
– Once you have it, I dont know how, but you just have to switch the page. The minute he starts screaming, you have to forget about all your other problems. You are out. All the rest is fucked. Honestly, that’s what happens.
– What’s his name?
– So, Vasily changed your career.
Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way. We will see. I’m only twenty days as a father. Since he was born, honestly I don’t care about anything. I only care about him. So if you tell me clay, I play on clay, if grass, I play in grass. If I have to play at eleven o’clock, I play. Nothing else really matters for me.
– What other things do you accept now in tennis that you used to dislike a lot?
– I just have to give a good example and I have to enjoy what I do.
– Is the tennis player’s life a cool life?
– But a lot of people would die for traveling like you. Why do you think this is a negative thing?
– There’s a lot of people who dream of having clean drinking water, you know? So it’s not about I don’t appreciate it. Is because I just don’t like it. That’s it.
– Do you try to make tennis cooler with the way you play?
– No. I honestly don’t care. I play for myself. Now for my family. If people like it, is all good. If not is also fine for me. It doesn’t change anything for me.
– But you are the kind of player who expresses a lot about how much fun you have on court.
– Yeah, specially now. I started to have a lot of fun during the French Open this year. And since then I really do enjoy playing tennis. Eleven in the morning and 40 degrees outside? Yeah. Thats fine!
– What would you like to be if you were not a tennis player?
– I really don’t know, because I’d like to be many things but if not a tennis player I wouldn’t do the money I make, and I wouldn’t be as free as I am. But if you tell me I can have unlimited amount of money then I’d like to help young generations, not only tennis players. Give the oportunity to kids to access sport, help people, have a foundation. I never had the option not to be a tennis player.
– No, never had another option. My father told me to play, I played. My mum supported it.
– How old were you when he told you to play?
– Two years old, probably. I don’t remember. It was never raised the question if you wanted or not. In my family it was like that. I don’t think it was supposed to be a question.
– Why did your father had this attitude? Was he a tennis fan who wanted his kid to be a tennis star?
– It’s a great attitude. If you want your kids to be good you have to take care of them, you have to tell them what to do.
– Would you do the same with Vasily?
– I don’t want him to be a tennis player.
– But lets say you want him to become an astronaut, an economist… Would you tell him to do what you want?
– If I see he is good in something yes, because he is a kid. He has no idea. I’m 25. Now I maybe realized that seven years ago I was very stupid. And I was 18, I was already playing to a top 100 tennis player. So of course you have to tell your kids what to do. If you give them freedom you will see what they become.
– You take seriously your responsibility as a father…
– Of course you have to take responsibility. Now people don’t like this, they want to say it is not their fault, this or this. Taking responsabilities is part of life.
– Did you enjoy Elena Rybakina’s title in Wimbledon? Both have something in common as you were born in Russia and represent Kazakhstan.
– Yeah, of course. Elena’s victory it is great for the country, for everything, considering what our Federation is been trough. The investments paid off, they’ve been already paying for many years since I play, since Mikhail Kukushkin play. Elena´s is just a cherry on a cake. I’m proud of the Federation becuse I know the kind of work they did. How much they helped players, how much they helped me. This achievement for Elena and for the country is great.
– Federer, Nadal, Djokovic… Who is the coolest?
– Lets be honest, I didn’t spend so much time with Roger, Rafa neither. So for me the coolest is Novak.
An ATP oficial interrupts the conversation. The time assigned for the interview it’s not even close to be completed. The three people involved in the conversation (two journalists and the player) want to keep going. “Don’t worry. I like, I like,” Bublik says.
– So, not enough time to share with Federer, you were telling.
– Yeah, not much time with Roger. When I arrived he was already quiting, not playing much. With Novak we talk a lot since Covid started. I wouldn’t say he is cool, he is 35 years old, he cannot be cool at 35 years old and father of two. He is a good gentleman, proud tennis player and proud father and he is great for the sport.
– And besides these three guys, if you have to mention a couple of really cool guys in tennis, who would you choose?
– (Gael) Monfils is cool. Grigor (Dimitrov) is cool. With this two guys I get along very well.
– Maybe you should define ‘cool’. What do you understand by ‘cool’.
– Gael, Gael. He is the definition. He is chill, he likes the crowd. I define ‘cool’ as Gael Monfils.
– Is it true that Alexander Zverev and you had a fight when you were juniors?
– What happened?
– I wouldn’t tell the story. It’s in the past. Yes, we had a fight, it was there, but I don’t want to go into details.
– At least can you tell who won?
– We are both here, so everybody is safe.
– So, it wasn’t that terrible.
– I don’t think we should talk about the past, specially in this kind of case.
– Are you a party guy?
– Used to be.
– What made you change? Family?
– Well, before when I met my wife, she was my girlfriend by the time, yeah I was partying a lot, yeah. Is not good to party when you are in a relationship, no?
– I’m not sure about that.
– You gotta be loyal, take care of the person you are with.
– Unless you party together.
– Yeah, well, we party together.
– How was like to party with you?
– I don’t know, you can ask somebody that went partying with me.
– Unfortunatly I don’t know anyone.
– Anyway, they won’t tell you.
– What is your dream in tennis?
– I wouldn’t say is a dream, is a goal. Because dreams I think are things you cannot achieve. My goal are to stay healthy and to play long. If I can be top 30, top 40 until the end of my career, in ten or 15 years time I would say it was a good career.
Cover photo: Bublik having his ice cream in the media centre of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre // SEBASTIÁN FEST
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