Andrey Rublev has amassed quite a following in the desert since he first competed in qualifying at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open. On Friday night, the sixth seed used the support of a packed Stadium 3 crowd to defeat Jiri Lehecka 6-4, 6-2, storming back from a break down in the second set.
The opponents previously split a pair of three-setters over the past 12 months, with Lehecka winning last month in Doha.
“We had a tough match in Doha,” Rublev said after advancing to the Indian Wells third round. “He beat me and I wanted to see if I could take revenge. In the end I was able to win today, so I’m really happy.”
At the year’s first ATP Masters 1000, Rublev won the opening set without facing a break point but fell behind 0-2 in the second. He powered through the finish line from there, winning six straight games — including a 0/40 escape at 2-2 — with the crowd growing in volume with each point.
“The crowd, there are no words to describe how grateful I am,” Rublev reflected. “I’ve been coming here every year since 2016. I can feel [the support]. This is my first match. Compared to last year… I was playing during the day last year. I think it was a full stadium but it was 50/50 support. Today I played a 10 p.m. match after a rain delay and had huge support, so it’s unreal.”
Rublev will meet Ugo Humbert in the third round after the Frenchman’s 7-5, 6-4 win against 25th seed Denis Shapovalov.
Frances Tiafoe also opened his Indian Wells campaign with a straight-sets win on Friday night, moving past fellow American Marcos Giron 6-2, 6-2. Tiafoe won the first four and the final four games of the match and did not face a break point in the 65-minute win.
Seeded 14th, the US Open semi-finalist will meet Jason Kubler in the third round. Kubler led Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 7-6(5), 3-0 when the Bulgarian retired with a right-knee injury.