DUBAI (AFP) - Russian world No. 7 Andrey Rublev sent out a message for peace and unity after he advanced to his third semi-final in as many weeks with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over American Mackenzie McDonald in Dubai on Thursday (Feb 24).
In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Rublev posted a photo on Instagram of two characters featuring the colours of the two nations' respective flags hugging each other.
He later told reporters in Dubai how tough it was to step on court in the light of everything that was happening.
"In these moments, you realise that my match is not important. It's not about my match, how it affects me. What's happening is much more terrible," the Olympic gold medallist said.
"You realise how important it is to have peace in the world and to respect each other no matter what, to be united. It's about that we should take care of our Earth and of each other. This is the most important thing."
Rublev is one of many Russian athletes to receive verbal attacks online.
"Of course I get some bad comments on Internet because I am Russian, so I get some aggressive comments like not in a good way. I cannot react on them because if I react on them, I'm going to show (I am) the same (as them)," he explained.
"If I want to have peace, I need to be like it doesn't matter. Even if they throw rocks to me, I need to show I'm for the peace, I'm not here to be aggressive or something, even if I'm not responsible for something."
Contesting a 12th consecutive quarter-final at the ATP 500 level, Rublev recovered from a poor first-set performance against McDonald to reach the Dubai semi-finals for a second year in a row.
A late arrival after picking up the title in Marseille last Sunday, Rublev was playing for the third time in three days in Dubai.
As against Kwon Soon-woo in the previous round, Rublev again made a slow start and lost the first set. This time, he dropped the opening five games as McDonald grabbed the lead in under 30 minutes.
The No. 2 seed saved all three break points he faced in the second set, and claimed a crucial break of serve in the fifth game to level the contest.
The 24-year-old ran away with the decider to set up a last-four clash with Hubert Hurkacz who beat Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-3.
"Today I was thinking that for sure it's over, but somehow I was just trying to tell myself, 'just keep fighting and we'll see what happens'," said Rublev on court.