The Competitive Fire That Burns Within Casper Ruud
Editor's Note: This story was first published on 14 February 2021.
Casper Ruud will play the biggest match of his life on Monday against seventh seed Andrey Rublev in the fourth round of the Australian Open. The Norwegian star will have a chance to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, so there will be an abundance of pressure on the 22-year-old’s shoulders.
Ruud would rather have it no other way.
The 24th seed lives for these moments. Many players dread pressure and the nerves that often come with big matches, but Ruud embraces it all.
“It shows that your body is pumping up adrenaline to fight,” Ruud told ATPTour.com. “You really show yourself that you’re preparing for a tough fight, for a tough moment. It shows that you really want to win and that’s a good feeling. You prefer to play when you’re not nervous of course. You can get tight, you can maybe miss shots that you shouldn’t. But at the end of the day, I’ve learned that being nervous is actually a good thing.”
When you watch Ruud play, he shows few emotions, and rarely displays his nerves. The 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals competitor never gets too high or too low. It’s as if the Norwegian has ice in his veins. But inside, he is a fiery competitor.
“Overcoming pressure situations when you’re nervous on break points, set points, all these things, that’s probably the best feeling for a player,“ Ruud said. “That tension that you get in your body on those points and overcoming it, that’s one of the biggest satisfactions on the court. It’s tough when you lose them when you don’t get that feeling, but that makes the time you overcome those situations feel even better.”
Competing drives Ruud off the court, too. He is an avid golfer, who has a dedicated Instagram page to show the world his skills on the course.
“I like to win when I play, so I challenge better golfers than me, worse golfers than me,” Ruud said. “It’s just the challenge of trying to win and get better at it.”
But while he doesn’t often show it, Ruud admitted that he does feel nerves, saying, “I get nervous too, even if it might not seem like it.”
The Norwegian recalls the semi-finals of the 2017 Rio Open presented by Claro. Then 18, he began the week without a tour-level win, but earned a match point in the second set against gritty Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. He was desperate to reach his first ATP Tour final that day in Brazil. But that moment remains the most nervous he has ever been on court.
“I knew that if I had won I would break into the Top 100 as an 18-year-old and I would play in all the main draws at the Slams that year,” Ruud said. “That was a little bit of a nerve-wracking moment for me. It all just collapsed when I didn’t win that second set. In the third set it all just went south and I remember I was really nervous on that match point and in those games trying to close out the match. I played a great match up until that point, but after that, the nerves got me.”
Ruud didn’t show it by screaming or throwing a racquet, but from 6-2, 5-4 up, he did not win a game the rest of the match and did not crack the Top 100 until March 2019, more than two years later.
“I can see why he's going to be good in the future. He's got a great attitude, very calm, very quiet, maybe very Norwegian, I'm not sure,” Federer said. “But it's nice to see that he's very focused, he's got good energy. Even though he is maybe more on the calm side, also very fair… It's just nice to play against a guy like that, to be quite honest.”
Rublev leads the pair's ATP Head2Head series 2-0, but the red-hot Russian expects a difficult battle.
"It's going to be tough," Rublev said. "It's going to be a physical match because he has really great physical power. He can run a lot. He's [hitting his] forehand really hard."
Ruud is just the second Norwegian player to reach the Round of 16 at a Grand Slam, joining his father Christian Ruud, who accomplished the feat at the 1997 Australian Open. The 22-year-old will try to become the first from his country to reach a quarter-final. No matter what happens, Ruud has come a long way since that day in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’ve grown up. I’ve matured more than I was back then. I’ve gotten physically stronger, mentally stronger. My tennis has gotten better. I don’t have weaknesses that I had,” Ruud said. “I think it’s just a big development that I’ve made in all aspects of my game. In one way I’m happy that I didn’t break into the Top 100 at that stage. It’s been tough, but I’ve enjoyed the tough work to get here and it’s a nice way to get a little bit of payback when you reach the late stages in a Grand Slam.”