Underdog Casper Ruud surmounted a series of difficulties to squeeze past Andrey Rublev for the first time in five meetings and claim the remaining semi-final spot at this year’s ATP Finals being held in Turin.
I can thank my arm that I was able to hit an ace on match point, because I was so nervous, Casper Ruud
Playing in the prestigious event for the first time in his career, the 22-year-old Norwegian looked set to leave the tournament when he dropped the first set in his last Green Group match for the loss of two games.
But he recovered in the second and resolutely held on to level only to see his Russian rival for the last four spot, gain the advantage in the third by breaking to lead 3-2.
Ruud struck back to level, saved break points at 5-all and then snatched the 2-6 7-5 7-6(5) victory in the tie breaker, clinching it with an ace – his 14th – on his second match point to end the week second in the group behind Novak Djokovic, with two wins and a loss.
“I can thank my arm that I was able to hit an ace on match point, because I was so nervous,” Ruud divulged during his on-court interview.
“The court is playing very fast and Andrey plays very fast. He rips the ball harder than anyone on the Tour and serves very well on his first serve.
“We all want to play under control and with initiative, but it is not easy against Rublev because he makes you run all the time and play defensively all the time. I knew I had to fight fire with fire. On the big points I think I played quite smartly.”
On Saturday in the semi-finals Ruud will face the defending champion Daniil Medvedev who is on a roll having won the last eight matches he has played at the event.
“I am looking forward to tomorrow already,” Ruud added. “It is going to be another tough battle, different kind of player from today, but one of the best in the world and he has proven himself as one of the best over the past two or three years. I have played against him a couple of times and lost both, but I know a little bit about what I am going to face and it is going to be a fun challenge.
“Even though I’m the fourth guy I don’t consider myself the fourth-best player in the world,” he continued. “Tomorrow will be a fun day — probably the biggest match of my career.”
Meanwhile Rublev departs with a 1-2 win-loss record for the week, reflecting on the match which on paper as the world No.5, he should have won but well compensated with a pay-check totalling US$ 302,750
“It is tough,” Rublev admitted. “Hopefully, I can go through it to get a good lesson, which will give me a huge improvement. In the moment I got tight, which is normal.
“Casper played well. He has a great forehand. One of the best on Tour. He dictates with it and hits the ball well. Because I was tight, I was serving too slowly and he returned aggressively on the forehand and I could not do anything.”
In the evening session’s dead match, Djokovic, who had already qualified for the semis, steamrolled Britain’s No.1 Cameron Norrie 6-2 6-1 to complete the week unbeaten. He will play Alexander Zverev in the other semi-final in the evening session on Saturday.
“Sascha is playing well,” Djokovic said. “He is obviously one of the best players in the world, arguably the best serve, it is definitely up there. It is going to be tough. The conditions are quick, so that will be one of the keys, how well will I serve and return.”
Djokovic leads the German 7-3 in their head-to-head winning six of their last seven matches with the lone loss coming in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics.
“I think every single match that we played was very close,” Zverev said. “Every single match that we played we both needed to be at our best. One or two points decided the matches. I expect no different here, as well.”
But whatever happens in the semi-finals this weekend, it has been a remarkable year for Ruud who has won five tour singles titles and lst month, achieved his highest world ranking of eighth.