Casper Ruud continues to thrive on his maiden voyage deep into week two of a Grand Slam. The 23-year-old qualified for his first major quarter-final earlier this fortnight – becoming the first Norwegian to reach this stage – and is now in the final after a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6 -2 victory over Marin Cilic in the semi-final on Friday.
The eighth seed will face Rafael Nadal for the first time in Sunday’s final as he tries to rob the Spaniard of a record 14th Roland Garros crown and a 22nd Grand Slam singles title. Ruud is training at the Spanish academy in Mallorca, adding to the intrigue ahead of the league game.
“It’s amazing… He’s the last player in the Big 3 and the best players in the world I’ve ever played against,” Ruud said of Nadal in an on-pitch interview. “So I guess it’s perfect timing and worth the wait. To finally face him in a Grand Slam final will be a special moment for me. Hopefully a bit for him too.
“He’s played so many finals, but at least he’s playing a student from his academy this time around. So it’s going to be fun, hopefully.”
After Cilic came through the first set behind two late breaks, Ruud began a methodical comeback that gathered pace as the match progressed. The Croatian dominated the early rallies, winning and losing points on his own terms, before Ruud gained ground behind his high-revving ground slams.
After spending much of the first set defending, the Norwegian started to drag his opponent by finding corners with a strong rotation. After an early break in the second, he served the set 6-4 winning five straight to escape a 0/40 hole, finding several big serves and forehands during what turned out to be the crucial moment of the contest. .
The history of the match can be tracked by the number of unforced error winners for both men. After Ruud hit just three winners (and five errors) in the first set, he hit 16, 12 and 10 in the final three, exceeding his error count by a healthy margin in each. Cilic produced a ratio of plus four in the first two sets but a mark of minus nine in the last two.
“It was a great game for me,” Ruud said. “I didn’t start the best, but Marin also played well in the first set. I was too defensive and managed to break it in the second set and that gave me some momentum. Since that break, I’ve played some of my best tennis this year. Serving well, playing aggressive, so I’m super happy with my performance today.”
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The only thing that could stop Ruud’s momentum was a protester who locked at the net with the Norwegian leading by a double break in the third set. But after a brief delay in which both players left the field, he finished the job at 10:15 p.m., wrapping up the win in just under three hours.
He goes 3-0 against Cilic in their ATP Head2Head series, with a win every year since 2020. Following the win, Ruud overtakes Carlos Alcaraz at No. 6 in the Pepperstone ATP Live rankings. He is now set to reach a career high in Monday’s Pepperstone ATP rankings.
An eight-time starter at circuit level, Ruud has led the ATP Tour in victories on clay (66), titles (seven) and finals (eight, including Roland Garros) since the start of 2022. But he had not yet been able to translate that. Grand Slam success, where a run in the fourth round of the 2021 Australian Open was his previous best result. Ruud entered this Paris fortnight with a 7-4 record at Roland Garros and three consecutive third-round exits. He can match his previous win tally with a win over Nadal on Sunday.
Cilic was a candidate for his fourth major final and had the opportunity to become the fifth active man to reach the final of all four Grand Slams. The world No. 23 would have been the lowest-ranked Roland Garros semi-finalist since No. 25 Robin Soderling in 2009.