It is not often you see a player ranked outside the top #200 in the semi-finals of an ATP 500. Rarer still is that the player is a fresh-faced 18-year-old who without an ATP win to his name prior to the tournament. That is the reality in Rio though as Norway’s Casper Ruud marks his first ATP 500 with a semi-final showing.
No doubt to the delight of the ATP’s #NextGen Marketing team the teenager has come alive in Brazil. After being gifted a wildcard into the main draw, Ruud has seized his opportunity, defeating Rogerio Dutra Silva, Roberto Carballas Baena and Thiago Monteiro to reach the semi-final. Already guaranteed 180 points for his efforts, Ruud can increase that figure to 300 should he find a way to defeat Pablo Carreno Busta in the semi-finals.
Given the hype surrounding much of tennis rising stars at the moment it is surprising that more has not been said about Ruud. The Norweigian’s rise over the last year has been nothing short of remarkable. While his success at the Junior Grand Slams was limited he began 2016 as the highest ranked junior player.
Casper Ruud building on breakout 2016 season
It was in 2016 that he decided to switch his attention almost solely to the futures circuit. It did not take long for that decision to pay dividends. By mid-February he already had one futures title to his name, defeating Carlos Taberner in Spain. By the end of July he had reached another three finals, although he did not pick up any titles.
A second futures trophy was won in Finland before Ruud decided to chance his arm at the Challenger level. The decision paid off. Defeating the likes of Inigo Cervantes and Taro Daniel en route, Ruud stormed to his first Challenger title in his first Challenger event. Particularly impressive given that it was still three months until his eighteenth birthday.
The notable link between all of his deep tournament runs is that the majority have come on clay, including this week’s run in Rio. This may have something to do with Ruud’s coaching set-up. The teenager is coached by former Spanish pro Pedro Rico, another player who grew up favouring the red dirt.
Tennis in the family
Rico is not the only ex-professional in the youngster’s corner though. Casper Ruud has tennis flowing through his veins as his father also used to play. Christian Ruud peaked at #39 in the world back in 1995 and – much like his son – found success on clay. Ruud never won an ATP title but did manage to collect 12 Challenger titles, 10 of which came on the dirt. Even at this early stage in his career there is a large sense it is ‘like father, like son’.
The youngster’s superb march to the semi-finals has flown slightly under the radar given it has happened during a relative lull in the season. The period between the Australian Open and the American Masters swing always goes by relatively quietly. That could all change if Ruud were able to make it through to the final.
Tricky semi-final test against Pablo Carreno Busta
In order to do that though he’ll have to come through a quality clay courter in Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard currently sits at a career high ranking of #24 in the world. That said, he has not had the most convincing start to the season. He has already lost to one player ranked outside the top #200 in the world after falling to Franko Skugor in the Davis Cup earlier this month. Given that the loss came on clay, Ruud will by no means think a victory is out of the question.
Speaking of being ranked outside of the top #200, that will not be a problem for Ruud for much longer. His progress in Rio will comfortably move him inside the top #150 and also make him the highest ranked player aged under 19. A win over Carreno Busta would move him to the fringes of the top #100 and virtually seal him direct entry to the remaining Grand Slam’s in 2017.
Whatever the result of his semi-final match-up, Casper Ruud can be mightily pleased with his week’s work. Not only has he won his first ATP match but has backed it up with two further victories. It might be a few years before we see him challenging the top #50 but on this evidence there is little question that he will be an integral part of the #NextGen team over the next few years.