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I still feel like I haven’t peaked – After career year, Casper Ruud believes he’s got better tennis in him
The Norwegian pushed for the sports’ biggest titles in a breakout season that will see him finish at the world No 3. He believes next year will be even better.
There are two sides to every coin, and two sides to most – if not all – tennis seasons as well. No matter if its heads or tails the numbers point to a breakout 2022 season for Norway’s Casper Ruud, who played his first two major finals, reached additional finals at Miami and the ATP Finals (Ruud also won three titles at the 250-level), and continued to emerge as a formidable force on tour as he closes his season at No 3 in the ATP rankings.
Ruud acknowledges that there is room for improvement as well as cause for celebration after his 2022 campaign ended with a 7-5, 6-3 loss to Novak Djokovic.
Ruud, who has yet to win a title above the 250-level, admitted as much on Sunday as he talked to reporters about his season.
Overall if you gave me an offer to end the year at No. 3, play the finals that I’ve played, at the 1st of January this year, I would probably sign the contract right away. No doubt about it.— Casper Ruud
“Disappointing to end up losing these big finals”
“In the end it’s been disappointing to end up losing these big finals,” he said, before adding that he couldn’t be anything but pleased with his results from the last 11 months. “Overall if you gave me an offer to end the year at No. 3, play the finals that I’ve played, at the 1st of January this year, I would probably sign the contract right away. No doubt about it.”
But Ruud, who dropped to 0-9 this week against the ATP’s top-3 players, and 3-14 against the top-5, has yet to prove that he can match up against the cream of the ATP’s crop – it’s something the 23-year-old would like to change next season.
“I still feel like there are room for improvements, so that’s a good thing I believe to still be happy and know that there is still room for improvement, which is a good thing,” he said. “I feel like, of course, I’ve been playing great tennis this year, but I still feel like I haven’t maybe peaked or played hopefully my best tennis of my life so far.”
But before we get too negative we must recognise the tremendous improvements that Ruud has made over the last year. His backhand has gone from a liability to a steady, solid stroke. His game on hard courts – even the fastest – has improved by leaps and bounds. Ruud went 25-13 on hard courts this season, and reached finals at Miami, the US Open and the ATP Finals. You don’t get to the title match at those three prestigious hard court events if you aren’t one of the world’s best on the surface.
That’s a massive achievement, especially when we consider that two years ago Ruud was considered a clay-court specialist.
“Definitely very happy with the year all in all,” he said. “This result to me is maybe one of the most surprising, finishing the year here on a blistering fast indoor hard court, making the final, not something that I found very likely. Maybe neither did I in the US Open to make the final.
“I’ve overachieved compared to my own mind, so I’m very happy about that.”
The US Open stung more than the others
Asked to look back on his season, Ruud says he felt the US Open was the one that might have gotten away. He held set points in the third set against Carlos Alcaraz, but ended up losing in four in what ended up to be a coronation for the Spanish teen.
“I think the closest final was probably the US Open final.” he said. “It was one set all. I had some set points in the third set that I was not able to win unfortunately. That’s the one I felt closest to, maybe the one that stung a little bit more because I felt closer than maybe this one or Roland Garros.”
It also was a golden opportunity for Ruud to slow the meteoric rise of Alcaraz, a veritable sliding doors moment that could have marked the beginning of something even better for Ruud.
The goal for 2023 – ignore the expectations
Ruud is setting his sights high next season, and he plans to hit the ground running in Australia, where he was forced to withdraw with an injury last year. He said one of his biggest goals is to remain healthy for the full season.
After winning 108 matches and racked up eight titles since the start of 2021, Ruud doesn’t want to get caught up in the media’s expectations for him. He knows what he is capable of, knows what he needs to improve. What is written about him doesn’t matter, he says; what is important is focusing on the tennis and competing. It’s a tried-and-true plan that has always worked for his mentor, Rafael Nadal. Do the work, and good things happen.
“I’m probably going to have more eyes on me from next year on,” he said. “That’s something I’m going to just try to deal with and see how it goes.
“I don’t play tennis because I want the media to write good about me or write that I won or whatever. I play because I love competing. I love to try to win. That’s what I have to focus about. Whatever might be written about me or not, that’s not going to be in my head. I’m just going to focus on the matches that I play, take it from there.”