- Dylan Intwala, AIT
Casper Ruud: Tennis’ Next Star
For 18 years, three colossal names have dominated the world of men’s tennis: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer. The Big Three. You could ask anyone to name a tennis player, and more than half the time, they’d say one of those names. From 2004 to 2022, the Big Three won 63 out of a possible 75 Grand Slam titles. They lead the race of most Grand Slams won, with 22 for Rafael Nadal, 21 for Novak Djokovic, and 20 for Roger Federer, and they’re classed as not only three of the best tennis players, but also athletes of all time.
Unfortunately, the phenomenon we call time has caught up with these three superhumans. We saw the effects of time first affect Roger Federer, whose last Grand Slam title was back in 2018. The Swiss superstar suffered multiple injuries and has since retired. Nadal was hit hard as well, especially in 2022, where injuries and a decline in form saw him fall out of many tournaments. Djokovic has stayed relatively stable but has been unable to participate in many tournaments due to COVID vaccine requirements. The fall of the big three has beckoned the rise of new stars. Players such as Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the like were all touted to become the next world number one. Interestingly, we saw a different story at the 2022 US Open.
The finalists didn’t include any of the players above, but instead two young, up-and-coming stars: Casper Ruud of Norway and Carlos Alcaraz of Spain. Alcaraz ended up winning the US Open title but it was Ruud’s 2022 campaign that caught the eye of the tennis world. Born and raised in Oslo, Norway’s capital, Casper excelled at junior tennis events, becoming the first Norwegian player to achieve the No. 1 ranked junior player. He turned professional in 2015 and climbed up the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) rankings all the way up to No. 150 just two years later. During that same year, Ruud reached his first ATP semifinal, which he lost to the Spaniard Pablo Carreno-Busta. The next year, Ruud competed in the main draw of his first Grand Slam event, the Australian Open, through the qualification rounds. He became the first Norwegian to play in a Grand Slam in 17 years, . Ruud exited the tournament early, losing to Diego Schwartzman, but still qualified for the French Open, again through the qualifying rounds. This time, however, he didn’t drop a single set. He matched his achievement at the Australian Open, reaching the second round. Ruud rounded out 2018 with a first-round exit at the US Open and a career-high ranking of 112. 2019 was a similar year for Ruud, reaching the initial stages of the Grand Slams while continuing to climb the rankings. One year later, Ruud won his first career title at the Argentina Open, defeating Pedro Sousa to become the first tennis player from Norway to win an ATP Tour title. The Norwegian found partial success at the US Open and the French Open, reaching the third round in both. He ended the year ranked No. 27. 2021 saw more success come Ruud’s way. He reached the fourth round of the Australian Open, the doubles quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and won five ATP titles: the Geneva Open in Switzerland, the Swedish Open, the Swiss Open, the Generali Open Kitzbuhel in Austria and the San Diego Open in the USA, resulting in a career-high ranking of No. 8 at the end of the year.
2022 was by far Ruud’s most successful year. He began his Grand Slam presence at the French Open, where he reached the final after beating multiple top-30-ranked players. He lost in straight sets to the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal. He continued his success at the US Open, again beating multiple top-seeded players to set up a dramatic final against the young Spanish star Carlos Alcaraz. Ultimately, he lost the title to the Spaniard. In terms of lower ATP events, Ruud won 3 titles in 2022 and is currently ranked No. 3 in the world as of November 2022. He reached a career-high of No. 2 back in September shortly after his US Open result.
Ruud plays a very defensive style, sticking to the baseline for most of his matches and relying on pure power; he also often finds himself in points that turn into physical marathons because of his unrelenting desire to return the shot. The Norwegian is a product of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain, visible through his excellency on clay surfaces that mirror that of Rafael Nadal. His points begin with a strong serve to shake his opponents up, then he continuously makes his opponents go back and forth across the court, grinding and tiring them out. He executes winners through his excellent topspin forehand, which he is able to nail into corners, resulting in clean, direct shots. Relying on that forehand, however, exposes his weakness, which is his backhand. Since the beginning of 2022, however, Ruud’s athleticism has improved so much that he doesn’t find himself in a position where he is forced to hit many backhands; moving around the ball enables him to whip his trademark forehand. This isn’t to say he hasn’t improved his backhand, though.
Tennis experts and fans consistently predicted the successors of the Big Three to be among Zverev, Thiem, Felix Auger-Aliassime, or even Nick Kyrgios, whose short temper often lets him down. Casper Ruud, alongside fellow young star Alcaraz, have come sprinting out of the barrel, surprising everyone with their incredible growth, both in playing experience and in ranking. The only thing that Ruud waits for, now, is that much-desired first Grand Slam title.