From Qualies To Q’finals, Ruusuvuori Thriving In Nur-Sultan

WASHINGTON, October 30, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

At 21, Emil Ruusuvuori is Finland’s highest-profile tennis player since Jarkko Nieminen in a nation of 5.5 million inhabitants, known more for its Arctic Lapland wilderness and ski resorts. In fact, he’s one of just two Finns currently in the Top 500. Ranked 98th, Ruusuvouri is making a name for himself – even if he’s had to travel great distances around the globe to gain recognition.

This week, Ruusuvuori, who turned pro two years ago after reaching the Top 10 as a junior, has reached the quarterfinal round of the inaugural ATP 250 Astana Open in Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan. Although Ruusuvuori is competing about 3,822 kilometers from his home in Helsinki, he’s making the most of his playing opportunities this week in Kazakhstan. Pretty good for someone that switched from badminton to tennis at age 5 on the recommendation of a Finnish coach who admired his touch. Now, it’s almost impossible to get Ruusuvuori to put down his tennis racquet. However, the young Finn once admitted if he weren’t playing tennis, he’d be an ice hockey player.

2019: A breakout year for Ruusuvuori

Ruusuvuori enjoyed a breakout year in 2019, especially on indoor hard courts, where he won ATP Challenger Tour events in Glasgow, Scotland and on home soil in Helsinki. He also garnered two titles on outdoor hard courts, in Fergana, Uzbekistan; and Mallorca, Spain. Ruusuvuori also represented Finland in the Davis Cup against Austria and won a pair of matches, including a straight-set win over Dominic Thiem. His ranking skyrocketed last year from No. 365 at the end of 2018 to No. 123.

Fast forward, Nur-Sultan represents the 13th tournament of the year that Ruusuvuori has played (11 on the ATP Tour and two ATP Challenger Tour events). His overall win-loss record (including Challengers, tour-level matches and qualifying draws) is 24-13. The 6-foot-2-inch (187 cm), 174-pound (79 kg) Ruusuvuori began the year ranked No. 121 and broke into the Top 100 on August 24. His career-high ranking of No. 91 came two weeks later. He generated a lot of buzz with his five-set defeat of Aljaz Bedene of Slovakia in the first round of this summer’s US Open.

Cracking the Top 100 was a big goal

“One of my biggest goals was cracking the Top 100,” Ruusuvuori said Thursday during a virtual press conference in both English and Finnish. “Now, I just want to go as high as I can. There’s no limits.”

Ruusuvuori gained a berth in the Astana Open 28-player main draw by winning a pair of qualifying draw matches last weekend. He beat No. 234 Max Purcell of Australia and No. 196 Viktor Troicki of Serbia, dropping just one set. Into the main draw, Ruusuvouri won his first-round match over 438th-ranked Kazakh wild card Timofey Skatov on Tuesday, and on Thursday knocked out No. 8 seed Jordan Thompson of Australia, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, in which he hit six aces, won 70 percent of his service points, broke Thompson’s serve four times and outpointed his 60th-ranked opponent 79-72.

Ruusuvuori is first Finnish male in an ATP quarterfinal in six years

The last time a Finnish male player reached the quarterfinals was Nieminen in 2014. So, Ruusuvuori reaching the last eight in an ATP Tour event is a pretty big thing back home in Finland.

In Friday’s quarterfinals, Ruusuvuori will be in the featured evening match when he opposes 91st-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan, who took out No. 1 seed Benoit Paire of France, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-1. It will be his 11th match spread over three consecutive tournaments (Cologne, Antwerp and Nur-Sultan), and there’s a common thread: Ruusuvuori plays qualifying, wins matches, gains main-draw berth.

After his Thursday win against Thompson, Ruusuvuori called his upset win over the 60th-ranked Aussie “a good match overall. 

“I was able to use the experience from [qualifying] to play a pretty good match. It was tough, but I was able to come back.”

After splitting the first two sets, Ruusuvuori was broken early in the third set and fell behind 3-1. Then, he broke Thompson to level the set at 3-all and later held for 5-4. Finally, on his second match-point opportunity, Ruusuvuori broke Thompson to win and move on.

“[The match was] decided by just a few points,” Ruusuvuori said. “I’m glad it went my way today.”

Nothing else to think about than playing tennis

Ruusuvuori, who is traveling this week with his coach, Italian Federico Ricci, said he likes the indoor hard-court conditions that he’s playing on this week. With his hotel near the National Tennis Centre, “there’s nothing else to think about [than playing tennis],” he said.

Looking ahead, Ruusuvuori will return to the Challenger Tour when he competes in Eckental, Germany, next week and Bratislava, Slovakia, the week after. He believes his current ranking should be good enough to secure a direct entry into next January’s Australian Open. This year, Ruusuvuori lost in the first round of qualifying in Melbourne, so he has a desire to improve upon that experience. Now, with his current run of good form in Nur-Sultan, his live ranking has jumped to No. 91 and given him confidence as he goes forward.

“I’m enjoying playing freely,” Ruusuvuori admits. “Let’s just see how far it can go.”

Alexander Zverev’s week that was or wasn’t …

It’s been quite a week for Germany’s Alexander Zverev. First, the World No. 7 won his second straight ATP 250 indoor hardcourt tournament in Cologne on Sunday. Next, he confirmed via his Instagram platform on Thursday that he impregnated one ex-girlfriend, Brenda Patea, and will become a father at age 23. (She’s 20 weeks pregnant and while they have no current contact, she doesn’t plan to split custody.) Finally, in the same Instagram post, he discussed – and denied – allegations of abuse by another ex-girlfriend, Olga Sharypova.

“The last days were quite challenging for me,” Zverev wrote. “I will be a father at age 23. And I am very much looking forward to the child. Even though Brenda and I are no longer together, we have a good relationship and I will live up to my responsibility as a father.” …

“Then, there are the unfounded accusations of my ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova, which I read in the media today. They make me very sad.  … Because the accusations are simply not true. … I really hope that the two of us will find a way to deal with each other again in a reasonable and respectful way.”

Zverev is entered in next week’s Rolex Paris Masters and he’s also clinched a spot in the Nitto ATP Finals in London, which begins Nov. 15.

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