Twelve months ago Emil Ruusuvuori was in Helsinki, preparing for upcoming futures events in Barnstaple and Oslo, tournaments lost in obscurity to all but the most die-hard of tennis fans.
A year on, the 20-year-old Finn is seeded fourth in qualifying for the Australian Open, progressing to round two with a 7-5 6-2 win over Argentina’s Facundo Mena on Thursday afternoon.
In tennis terms, the gulf between futures and Grand Slams is not so much a stepping stone as a gaping chasm, but one which the curly-haired Ruusuvuori has straddled with the easy nonchalance of youth over the last 12 months.
He served notice of his talent with a standout win over world No.5 Dominic Thiem in Davis Cup last year, and to the intrigued spectators on Court 7 there was plenty to savour. Backhand passes which elicited gasps, elastic-limbed retrieving, and the ability to exploit the full geometries of the court to pull his foe into uncomfortable territory.
Mena provided determined opposition, seeking to bamboozle the youngster with the clay-courter’s typical armoury of kick serves and heavy topspin, but once the first set was in Ruusuvuori’s grasp, he swiftly pulled away.
“For sure, I’ve come a long way,” he said afterwards. “I loved Davis Cup last year, it’s one of the best things in tennis, and to beat Dominic was surreal. One of the best weekends I’ve had. Quite a different start to the season this year. I’m playing well and hope to keep going. Tennis is a really small sport in Finland, Jarkko Nieminen was the last top player we had, so I hope I can make some kind of impression on the kids back home and we get more into our sport.”
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Viktor Troicki - who turns 34 in a couple of days’ time – got his campaign off to a comfortable start on the same court with a 6-4 6-2 win over No.22 seed Bradley Klahn. Resuming already leading 6-4 4-1 from Wednesday, the former world No.12 barely broke sweat as he needed just nine minutes to wrap up victory.
“I’m happy that I finished the job quick today,” said Troicki, who is making yet another comeback from injury.
“Lately I had a lot of issues with my body, had a lot of thoughts about my career and what to do. For most of my career I was injury-free ‘til like two years ago, so I guess I’m paying that back now. But I want to give it a go, give it my best and try to come back once again. I feel good right now, I feel ready for the season, it’s started well and hope to continue.”
There was also a victory for 17-year-old Lorenzo Musetti – the 2019 Australian Open boys’ champion – who defeated Amir Weintraub 6-2 6-1 to reach round two, while Swiss second seed Henri Laaksonen suffered a surprise 7-6(0) 7-6(3) loss to Australian wildcard Rinky Hijikata.
But arguably the most entertaining match of the day saw Marius Copil outlast Tung-lin Wu 3-6 7-6(1) 7-6(8). A contest which began under dull skies amid a smattering of spectators, ended in blazing sunshine with both men getting a standing ovation for their efforts.
Copil, a player who has been as high as 56 in the rankings, knew the qualifying rounds would not be simple, but he was not prepared for the sheer intensity of Wu. The player from Chinese Taipei contested each point as if his very life depended upon it, and it was only the Romanian’s nerveless shot-making which kept his hopes alive.
“Honestly I thought I would have an easier match,” said a relieved Copil, the sweat still dripping from his shaven head.
“I didn’t know him and he played really good. I’m quite happy to get through because I started that match really good. I didn’t move well, I was very slow, the wind was coming from all directions, and then somehow I managed to click the switch in the second set. I felt confident going into the final 10-point tiebreak, because I’ve been playing them more and more in doubles, and it helps me because I’m getting used to the rhythm of them and fighting every ball. Somehow I got through this day, and I hope that from tomorrow I start to play better.”