Casper Ruud continues to thrive in his maiden trip deep into the second week of a Grand Slam. The 23-year-old advanced to his first major quarter-final earlier this fortnight — becoming the first Norwegian man to reach that stage — and is now through to the final after a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6 -2 victory against Marin Cilic in Friday’s semi-finals.
The eighth seed will face Rafael Nadal for the first time in Sunday’s final as he bids to deny the Spaniard a record-extending 14th Roland Garros crown and 22nd Grand Slam singles title. Ruud has trained at the Spaniard’s academy in Mallorca since September 2018, adding to the intrigue ahead of the championship match.
“It is amazing… He is the last player of the Big 3 and the very top players in the world I have never played against,” Ruud said of Nadal in an on-court interview. “So I guess this is perfect timing and worth the wait. To finally play him in a Grand Slam final will be a special moment for me. Hopefully a little bit for him as well.
“He has played so many endings, but at least he is playing a student from his academy this time. So it is going to be a fun one hopefully.”
After Cilic powered through the opening set behind two late breaks, Ruud began a methodical comeback that picked up steam as the match progressed. The Croatian dominated the early rallies, winning and losing points on his own terms, before Ruud gained traction behind his high-rpm ground strokes.
After spending much of the opening set on defense, the Norwegian began to pull his opponent around by finding the corners with heavy spin. After an early break in the second, he served out the 6-4 set by winning five straight points to escape a 0/40 hole, finding several big serves and forehands during what proved to be the crucial moment of the contest.
The story of the match can be tracked by the winners-to-unforced errors counts for both men. After Ruud struck just three winners (and five errors) in the opening set, he hit 16, 12, and 10 in the final three, outpacing his error count by a healthy margin in each. Cilic produced a plus-four ratio in the opening two sets but a minus-nine mark in the last two.
“It was a great match from my side,” Ruud said. “I didn’t start the greatest, but Marin also played well in the first set. I was too defensive and then I was able to break him in the second set and that got me going again. From that break I played some of my best tennis this year. Serving well, playing aggressive, So I am super happy with my performance today.”
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The only thing that could stop Ruud’s momentum was a protestor who locked herself to the net with the Norwegian leading by a double break in the third set. But after a brief delay during which both players left the court, I finished the job at 10:15 pm, closing out the win in just under three hours.
He improves to 3-0 against Cilic in their ATP Head2Head series, with one win each year since 2020. Following the victory, Ruud rises above Carlos Alcaraz to No. 6 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. He is now projected to reach a career-high in Monday’s Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
An eight-time tour-level titlist, Ruud leads the ATP Tour in clay wins (66), titles (seven) and finals (eight, including Roland Garros) since the start of 2022. But he had not yet been able to translate that success to the Grand Slams, where a 2021 Australian Open fourth-round run was his previous best result. Ruud entered this Paris fortnight with a 7-4 record at Roland Garros and three straight third-round exits. He can match his previous wins total with a victory against Nadal on Sunday.
Cilic was bidding for his fourth major final and had the opportunity to become a fifth active man to reach the final of all four Slams. The World No. 23 would have been the lowest-ranked Roland Garros semi-finalist since No 25 Robin Soderling in 2009.