A hardcourt king and potentially the new men’s world No.1?
Both are outcomes becoming increasingly likely as Casper Ruud continues his progress through this year’s US Open draw.
On Tuesday, Ruud picked apart an erratic Matteo Berrettini 6-1 6-4 7-6(4) to become the first player through to the men’s semifinals.
The world No.7 stands just two wins from his first Grand Slam title, and, in an atypically open draw, could clinch the No.1 ranking even sooner.
Combinations and permutations
Currently, Rafael Nadal remains in pole position to assume top spot from defending champion Daniil Medvedev, who was overpowered by Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round.
Yet less than 24 hours later, Nadal himself went out, upset by American Frances Tiafoe.
Those results meant Ruud and Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz also remained in contention for top spot, provided they made the US Open final while the other one doesn’t. Or, both could make the final, in which case, the winner would clinch No.1.
Ruud must defeat either Kyrgios or Karen Khachanov to get to the final.
If  @carlosalcaraz or  @CasperRuud98 reach the @usopen final, the Spaniard or Norwegian will become No. 1 in the Pepperstone #ATP Rankings on 12 September. If they both reach the final, the winner will become No. 1.— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) September 5, 2022
If neither reaches the final #Nadal will become No. 1.
Alcaraz, meanwhile, must first win his quarterfinal blockbuster against Jannik Sinner – who has beaten him in their past two encounters – after concluding his five-set fourth-round win over Marin Cilic at 2.24am on Tuesday.
And then he would have to go through either Tiafoe or Andrey Rublev.
It makes for plentiful scenarios to consider. But reaching No.1 is not beyond the realm of possibility for the Norwegian.
“Honestly, I had no idea that I had a chance to become world No.1 when we started this tournament, but someone from the ATP told me, so I was very surprised,” said Ruud, a player who did not earn any ranking points at either the Australian Open or Wimbledon, and who is yet to win a title above 250-level.
“I don’t wanna think too much about it, honestly. It’s of course something that all young players dream about, so if I’m in a position to do it, let’s see if I can accomplish it. And now I’m in the semifinals, let’s see how it goes.
“But of course it’s a little bit of extra motivation to dig in and even though if you’re down in the score, to keep fighting – you never know what’s going to happen.
“If I’m very lucky, I can leave New York as world No.1.”
Hard court gains
It is a fascinating quirk that a player could potentially ascend to world No.1 without earning any points at two of the season’s four majors.
In a cruel outcome, he injured his ankle while practising the day before the Australian Open and was forced to miss the tournament.
But elsewhere on tour, the 23-year-old has been rock-solid.
Well-known for his clay-court talents, Ruud confirmed these by advancing to his first major final at Roland Garros and the semifinals of the Rome Masters, plus scooping ATP titles in Buenos Aires, Geneva and Gstaad.
But he has also flourished on hard courts, appearing in the Miami Open final and more recently the Montreal Masters semis, and now thanks to his run to the last four in New York.
His tidy 17-6 record on hard courts sits within an overall win-loss tally of 43-15 in 2022.
“During Paris, something clicked, and I feel like I, this year, have sort of figured out in the better way how to play five sets,” Ruud said of his improved Grand Slam results.
“I'm honestly a bit surprised that I made it to the semis here, but I think I have developed my hard court game a lot the last year or two, and I think Miami this year showed me that I can beat good players and reach later stages in big hard court tournaments.
“That has been a sort of confidence booster for myself.”
Will that confidence translate to even further progress at Flushing Meadows?
Ruud indicated he was aware of the US Open’s uniquely unpredictable results; in the past two decades, more first-time winners have broken through there than at the other three majors.
And with none of the eight quarterfinalists in the 2022 men’s draw having ever won a Grand Slam singles title, well, why not him?
“There is something special I guess with this place,” Ruud mused.
“It shows that it's possible to do it here in New York. It's sort of a city of dreams.
“I guess that's helping me with my game and my motivation.”