Russia, as one of the four semi-finalists of the 2019 Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals, is a focus of the documentary Break Point: A Davis Cup Story. Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov spent a week in Madrid that is undoubtedly already part of the history of Russian tennis and the competition.
Despite being among the best tennis players in the world, neither Rublev nor Khachanov qualified for the ATP Finals in 2019 and as soon as the Caja Mágica opened its doors for training, both were there. The power of their shots and the good shape they were both in during those first few days – still with hardly any spectators – was evident. And there was a good rapport between them, too. But there was more: an important reinforcement, none other than Daniil Medvedev, was to join the team. The second half of his season had been brilliant and he had found himself in London fighting to become the master of world tennis.
But Russia was going to suffer a setback. Just one day after his debut against Croatia, Medvedev's withdrawal from Madrid was confirmed due to the physical strain he had endured in recent weeks. Rublev and Khachanov, with Evgeni Donskoy as the third player, would face the challenge alone. The draw had placed Russia with Spain and defending champions Croatia in Group B, known by all as the "Group of Death".
A late injury to Marin Cilic helped Russia to beat Croatia 3-0 on the first day with Rublev and Khachanov playing singles and doubles. But with Spain the challenge was going to be bigger: things started well for them when Rublev beat Roberto Bautista in the third set tie-break of the first match. It was a margin against what would come later. Khachanov could not overcome Rafa Nadal, losing in two sets; the doubles match was going to be key. Russia's pair was clear: Rublev and Khachanov were again going to be on their side of the net. And for Spain? Rafa Nadal also wanted to play but the Spanish captain opted for the experience of Feliciano López and Marcel Granollers. The Spaniards won 64 76 and Russia was left to the luck of the draw.
Spain beat Croatia 3-0 the next day and secured their place in the quarter-finals as group winners. Meanwhile, nations in the other five groups were still fighting it out. The top-placed team in each went straight into the quarter-finals but two more places were reserved for the best two runners-up; every set was a final. Russia could do nothing but wait. And the wait was long, with matches ending well after midnight. But finally, it happened: Russia’s place in the quarter-finals was confirmed – along with Argentina – as one of the best second-placed teams. Their opponents were to be none other than Novak Djokovic's Serbia.
An epic match and a promising future
And that's when the whole tennis world turned its attention on them, without exception. Neither Rublev nor Khachanov knew that they were about to star in one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Davis Cup. Following the singles, with Rublev beating Filip Krajinovic and Djokovic beating Khachanov, the place in the semi-finals would depend on whatever happened in the doubles. In that match, in the third set tie-break, and after saving three match points, Russia took victory. The explosion of joy was justifiable and only contained by the immense respect that the two Russians showed towards their rivals, who could hardly hold back their tears, with a shattered Victor Troicki and a Novak Djokovic who had not been enough to keep Serbia in the competition.
Saturday arrived, and with it, the semi-final. They were just one step away from the final. With Rublev and Khachanov back on the court for singles and doubles, it was finally Canada who got their pass to the final with Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov winning in the decisive doubles tie-break of the third set.
This was the end of Russia's journey in the 2019 Finals, which is also the story of two tennis players who dreamt of giving Russia what they witnessed as children when their country lifted the Davis Cup in Moscow in 2006. From 2021, no-one doubts that they will be back for more.