Ruud Beats Rublev In Turin Winner-Take-All Match

ATP Finals in Turin (photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images for ATP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 19, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The objective for both players was simple. Win and you’re in; lose and go home.

When Andrey Rublev and Casper Ruud walked out on the Pala Alpitour Centre Court to play their Nitto ATP Finals round-robin match Friday afternoon in Turin, each knew what they needed to do. Simply win.

In their career head-to-head, Rublev had won each of their first four matches and dominated in sets won 8-1. However, past performances aren’t always an accurate measure for determining the outcome of future matches, as their fifth meeting would bear out.

Instead, it was the underdog Ruud from Norway in his Nitto ATP Finals debut who, after a shaky start, came on strong in the final two sets. He beat Rublev, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5), in two hours and 24 minutes. The victory advanced the No. 8 seed Ruud to Saturday’s semifinal round against No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, whom he is 0-2 lifetime. It will be the first time Ruud and Medvedev have faced each other on an indoor hard court.

Ruud, who finished round-robin play 2-1, completed the task of winning behind an outstanding effort that produced 14 aces and 39 winners against 32 unforced errors – despite being outpointed 110-98. He converted three of five break-point opportunities and saved seven of 11 he faced from the No. 5 seed Rublev. The Russian finished with 14 aces and hit 33 winners to 22 unforced errors.

“The court is playing very fast and Andrey plays very fast,” Ruud, a five-time title winner on the ATP Tour this season said during his on-court interview. “He rips the ball harder than anyone on the Tour and serves very well on his first serve.”

It was the World No. 8 Ruud’s first win in five career meetings against his friend, World No. 5 Rublev, and he took advantage of his opportunities, even though it wasn’t easy in the beginning.

Rublev dominated the 34-minute first set on his racquet. He won all but four points on his serve and half of his return points against Ruud. The rallies were short and everything was happening fast. With three aces, eight winners and only four unforced errors, Rublev opened up a double break lead at 5-1 and coasted from there to win the opening set.

Then, Rublev continued his supremacy of Rudd by breaking the Norwegian to go ahead 2-1. However, the Moscow native lost the break advantage in the next game after hitting a third-shot forehand long. Rublev displayed his frustration by slamming his racquet to the ground. He got out of a jam in his next service game by saving a break point to hold for 3-all. However, at 6-5, Ruud broke Rublev for the second time in the set as the momentum shifted his way and it forced a decider.

Soon, Rublev pushed ahead 3-2 in the final set with a break after Ruud hit a fifth-shot forehand long, but Ruud got the break back in the next game after hitting a forehand winner on break point to level the decider at 3-all. Ruud surged ahead 4-3 after he finished an 11-shot rally with an overhead winner against Rublev. They remained on serve through 6-all and it was on to a tie break to decide the outcome.

On serve in the tie break at 5-3, Ruud was broken by Rublev, thanksto the divine intervention of a lucky net cord dribbler that plopped over the net. However, Ruud won the next point with an eighth-shot overhead winner to gain match point at 6-4. Although Rublev held steady with his 14th ace to save a match point, it was Ruud who stepped up and won the tie break 7-5 with his own 14th ace – and won the match, too. It was the second straight match Ruud had come back after losing a lopsided first set.

“We all want to play under control and with initiative,” said Ruud, who turned the match around with some monster-like forehand returns, “but it is not easy against Rublev because he makes you run all the time and play defensively all the time. I knew I had to fight fire with fire. On the big points I think I played quite smartly.”

“It was high quality, enjoyable tennis,” Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier said after Ruud secured the close victory. “The fans got their money’s worth. This one went to a final-set tie break. It was terrific as it should be.”

Although Ruud was the last man into the Nitto ATP Finals, his 31st match win of the season has enabled him to keep playing into the final weekend of the ATP season.

“I am just enjoying the moment,” Ruud added. “I am looking forward to tomorrow already. It is going to be another tough battle, different kind of player from today, but one of the best in the world – and he has proven himself as one of the best over the past two or three years. I have played against him a couple of times and lost both. But I know a little bit about what I am going to face and it is going to be a fun challenge.”

Djokovic completes round-robin undefeated

With first place in the Green Group already clinched, top seed Novak Djokovic looked to complete the round-robin stage undefeated when he faced second alternate Cameron Norrie Friday night.

Djokovic was successful – he beat the British No. 1, 6-2, 6-1, in 66 minutes backed by 21 winners. It was the sixth time in 14 Nitto ATP Finals appearances that the Serbian has gone through group play undefeated. He already had a Saturday semifinal date with Alexander Zverev confirmed regardless of the outcome of his match against Norrie.

Meanwhile, Norrie from Great Britain, the stand-in for injured Stefanos Tsitsipas, said before the match he hoped to make an impression on the World No. 1. Surprisingly, he had never played against or practiced with Djokovic before. “It’s going to be difficult, but I am looking forward to it,” he said. “I am going to see if I belong and can compete with a guy like that.”

After Djokovic (51-6 match record this year) beat Norrie, he said during his on-court interview:

“I tried not to think about tomorrow’s semifinal. It is not easy to walk on the court knowing you have already qualified and you know your opponent. I tried to be professional and I tried to give my best and I played really well. It was the first time we have played each other. I took the time away from Cameron. I analysed his game and knew the game plan and executed it very well.”

During the interview, Djokovic added: “[My tennis] gets better and better every match. I couldn’t be more satisfied with my tennis prior to possibly the two most important matches in the tournament.

“Sascha is playing well. He is obviously one of the best players in the world, arguably the best serve, it is definitely up there. It is going to be tough. The conditions are quick, so that will be one of the keys, how well will I serve and return.”

Ram and Salisbury outlast Cabal and Farah to win Red Group doubles

Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain qualified for their second straight Nitto ATP Finals semifinals with their 7-5, 2-6, 11-9 victory over Colombia’s Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah Friday afternoon.

The second-seeded American/British duo, who are making their third appearance together in the year-end tournament, put away their final Red Group match on their third match-point opportunity. They finished group play 3-0 after defeating 2019 champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut from France on Wednesday and Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil on Monday. The No. 5 seeds Cabal and Farah finished group play 1-2.

The Ram/Salisbury win meant Herbert and Mahut clinched the second Red Group semifinal berth before their last match. They defeated winless Murray and Soares, 6-3, 7-6 (5), Friday night to finish 2-1.

Next, Ram and Salisbury (43-16) will play No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, who finished second in the Green Group doubles, on Saturday. Mektic and Pavic have already won nine titles this season and finished at year-end No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings. The other semifinal will pair Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina against Herbert and Mahut.

Friday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Saturday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

For the first time since 1994, three of the four Nitto ATP Finals semifinals are former champions: Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev. The World No. 1 Djokovic, winner of the Green Group, has won the year-end finale five times and is alive for a record-equaling sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown. His opponent in Saturday’s semifinal will be 2018 champion Alexander Zverev. Meanwhile, World No. 2 and defending champion Medvedev, who is the Red Group winner, plays Casper Ruud.

“Quotable …”

“It was a great year for sure. A lot of highlights and playing here especially, it was a great feeling. I grew as a player, but also as a person, which for me is very important.

“I think it was a great season and whether someone expected it or not, I don’t know. But when you are, I think I started the year [at No.] 37 and finishing [in the] Top 10, it’s great. For me, it’s a big pleasure to be one of these incredible players.

“On the other hand, I know what I have to improve, my teams know that as well. So, it’s going to be interesting next year. But I don’t want to rush, that’s for me the main goal. I’m 20, next year I’m 21, there’s still many, many years that I can play on the Tour.”

Jannik Sinner of Italy, World No. 11, from his press conference following his three-set loss to World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on Thursday.