Ruud: 'I Still Feel I’m A Little Behind The Really Top Guys'
Ruud had his best result at a major in Melbourne 12 months ago when he defeated Jordan Thompson, Tommy Paul and Radu Albot to make the fourth round before being forced to retire with an abdominal injury against Andrey Rublev.
But although he went on to capture an incredible five Tour-level titles, break into the Top 10 and qualify for the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, Ruud did not see the Grand Slam results he wanted in the remainder of the 2021 season, going a combined 3-3 at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.
“For me, Grand Slams this year will be the tournaments where I feel I have the most to improve, because last year I did well here but the three other ones, I wasn’t able to do as well as I hoped,” Ruud admitted.
By making the last 16 in Melbourne, Ruud equalled the career-best Grand Slam result achieved by his father Christian. But the 23-year-old, who begins his Australian Open campaign against Alex Molcan on Tuesday, has his eye on more.
“I’ve been asked about my goals for this season and I think I’ve said it a couple of times, that a quarterfinal in a Grand Slam is what I’m hoping for,” Ruud revealed.
“I hope I can achieve it in this year and I would obviously love to do it here in Melbourne where I had actually the most success of my Grand Slam career. That would be, of course, fun to beat [my father’s] record, I’ve been able to tie it. Like I said, this year the goal for me has been to do better in the Grand Slams so I hope I can be able to achieve a quarter-final.”
Ruud’s exceptional 2021 season saw him spending more and more time in the rarefied air of the world’s best players: He played eight matches against Top 5 opponents over the course of the season.
“I think that even though I was able to break into the Top 10 last year and have my best year on Tour, I still feel like I’m a little bit behind the really top guys. Djokovic, Medvedev, Zverev, they are a bit on a different level, I think,” Ruud reflected.
“I’ve been able to play them a couple of times and I don’t feel like I’ve been too close, unfortunately. Of course, the scorelines have been close here and there, the first time I played Novak I had a couple of set points in the first set back in 2020, but I still feel they are on a bit of a different level. And I wish, of course, that I can reach that level myself but it’s a good indication that I need to keep working hard…
“But I think we’re all eager to catch up and challenge them for the bigger titles in the coming years and if we look at the big picture, in the next 15, 20 years I think we will have more people and players that will be able to win Grand Slams and challenge each other to win Grand Slams and the biggest titles on Tour.”
Ruud didn’t just see top players across the net last year. Having practiced with Rafael Nadal at his academy in Mallorca in the past, in 2021 the Norwegian joined the exclusive club of qualifiers for the season-ending championships in Turin and shared a Laver Cup bench with Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“I didn’t know all of them too well before Laver Cup, some of them I’d been practicing a little bit more with and all these things,” Ruud remembered.
“But I got a little bit closer to Sascha [Zverev] and Stef [Tsitsipas], I was talking a little bit more to them off court and when we were on the bench. All of them are nice guys but I hadn’t been playing or practicing with them too much from before so it was nice to get to know them and see what they do both on and off the court when they want to perform at the highest levels. It gives inspiration and motivation to keep working. And also knowing that what we are doing in my team is working out well but there are still room for improvements.”