Arriving in an era when legendary childhood idols still dominated and a ‘middle generation’ increasingly threatened, Casper Ruud might have been excused for a patient approach.
Instead, the ambitious young Norwegian, who followed his father Christian’s career path as a professional player, immediately made his presence known.
The first from his nation to claim the world No.1 junior ranking, Ruud subsequently became the first to claim an ATP title early in 2020. Last year, he was the first Norwegian to crack the world’s top 10.
With a brilliant mix of cool focus and powerful shot-making, the Oslo-born Ruud is now the first from Norway to reach the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
With his 6-2 6-3 3-6 6-3 victory over Hubert Hurkacz on Monday, the No.8 seed also progressed to the first Grand Slam quarterfinal of his career.
“It’s been one of the goals for me this year, to try to reach the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam,” said Ruud, whose previous best major appearance was a fourth-round appearance at Australian Open 2021.
“I don’t know why, but suddenly when I came here this year, I feel a little bit more experienced playing five sets. It’s like I’ve become a year older than before. Strange how time flies.”
In the early stages against Hurkacz, Ruud competed as if he had no time to waste.
Poland’s top-ranked male player was the only man to arrive in the fourth round without dropping serve, maintaining his streak for an impressive 43 games. Immediately asserting his authority, Ruud neutralised that edge as he broke Hurkacz serve to take a 2-0 lead.
An eventual nine service breaks in the two-and-a-half hour battle registered 6-3 in Ruud’s favour; there were also pleasing numbers as his 42 winners outnumbered 19 unforced errors.
Known for his potent forehand, Ruud’s calm under pressure is equally notable in his fifth main draw appearance at Roland Garros.
A gracious Ruud maintained impressive composure as he withstood a four-set challenge from the retiring Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before a passionate French crowd on Court Phillipe Chatrier in the first round.
After efficiently overcoming Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in a straight-sets second-round, Ruud then edged past Italian Lorenzo Sonego in five hard-fought sets.
As he approaches a fourth career meeting with Denmark’s Holger Rune – who alongside Carlos Alcaraz has become one of the most talked-about 19-year-olds in tennis at the Parisian major– Ruud will take confidence from the clay-court form that’s been steadily building in recent months.
Following quarterfinal appearances in Barcelona and Munich, Ruud was a Rome semifinalist and then lifted the Geneva trophy for a second straight year. Requiring three hours to complete a three-set win over Joao Sousa, Ruud’s victory marked the longest three-set final this year.
In defending his Geneva title on the eve of Roland Garros, Ruud also added to some impressive business-end performances.
From 11 career finals (including a first at Masters level in Miami two months ago), he’s now an eight-time ATP champion. Ruud was successful in all five finals he contested last year.
The quarterfinal will mark Ruud’s second all-Nordic battle – adding a Danish opponent to his Finnish second-round opponent in Ruusuvuori – of the tournament. It’s also an opportunity to build on many Norwegian firsts he has achieved in the game.
The level-headed Ruud appears to be thinking of neither of those things. “When this tournament is over for me, I will look back and think that I did a good job and did a good result and made my best result in a Grand Slam,” he said of becoming the first player from Norway to progress so far in a major.
“I’m still in tournament mode and not really thinking too much about all these things about the history and all these milestone and stuff.”
There’s inspiration aplenty as Ruud aims to build on his credentials this week. Naming the prolific Rafael Nadal as his childhood hero, Ruud trains at the 13-time Roland Garros champion’s Mallorcan-based academy.
And an emotional connection was made early at the clay-court Slam. “It’s the first Grand Slam that I visited as a kid,” Ruud smiled. “It's nice to get one of my best results of my career so far here.
“I hope I can continue the level of my tennis and the streak going.”