NEW YORK – Time flies in a tennis career.
And it’s never more evident than when you see two players who were kids a few years before, both playing in the second week of a Grand Slam.
Four years ago, we watched lifelong friends Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev practice together on the courts at Flushing Meadows.
And Monday, they were on court at the same time, trying to make the US Open quarterfinals.
(Postscript: neither of them made it).
Zverev had just turned 18– still of junior-eligible age. But the precocious German had left the juniors behind more than a year and a half before, after winning the 2014 Australian Open boys’ title and earning the No. 1 ranking in Oct. 2013.
He was already ranked No. 82 on the ATP Tour. And, but for a twist of fate in the rankings, Zverev would have been straight in after first breaking into the top 100 that May.
But on the Monday of the entry deadline, he had dropped down to No. 123 from 81.
It was just for a week. Zverev had reached the semis of the Hamburg 500 event in 2014, and seeing that event moved back two weeks in 2015.
So he had to qualify in New York. And he did, before losing in the first round of the main draw to veteran countryman Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Rublev, who was still a few months short of his 18th birthday, had just edged into the top 200.
His frequent junior doubles partner, Zverev, had “graduated”. But Rublev carried on. He won the 2014 French Open juniors and with it, the No. 1 junior junior ranking.
Rublev starred at the 2014 Youth Olympics on a powerhouse Russian team that included Karen Khachanov and Daria Kasatkina.
He wrapped up his junior career with the Orange Bowl at the end of 2014.
Less than a year later, still 17, the Russian also qualified in New York with a significantly tougher draw: Go Soeda, Yuichi Sugita and Peter Gojowczyk.
And he, too, lost in the first round in a tough four-setter to (then) world No. 14 Kevin Anderson.
On Monday, they were playing concurrently at the US Open.
No. 6 seed Zverev was on Arthur Stadium against No. 20 seed Diego Schwartzman. And Rublev was on Louis Armstrong Stadium against No. 24 seed Matteo Berrettini.
Next match Zverev VS Rublev pic.twitter.com/NX0dj1G0U6
— 👑Yul (@PrinceSascha123) October 5, 2017
It took four long years for both to get there at the same time.
Ironically, Rublev was the one who made it to the second week of a major first, when reaching the quarterfinals here in 2017 at age 19. Zverev only earned his first Grand Slam second week in Australia in January.
In the early going Monday, Zverev seemed far more at ease than did Rublev, who went down two sets to none to the not-much-more-experienced Berrettini in barely an hour.
But despite breaking Berrettini when he tried to serve out the match in the third set, Rublev went out in straight sets.
And Rublev, who was up a break in the third set – only to lose it – was on his way out as well as he lost to Schwartzman in four to continue his struggles at the majors.