Ruud Ends Cerundolo’s Dream Run At Miami Open

Casper Ruud (photo: ATP Tour video)

MIAMI/WASHINGTON, April 2, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Casper Ruud and Francisco Cerundolo, both 23, came into their semifinal showdown at the Miami Open presented by Itaú each vying for their first ATP Masters 100 final. While the sixth-seeded Ruud of Norway brought more big-match experience – seven tour-level titles and three previous Masters 1000 semifinals – the unseeded Cerundolo from Argentina had thrived round by round in South Florida during his Masters 1000 debut.

Friday afternoon, in their first head-to-head meeting, the World No. 8 Ruud’s experience served him well and he beat the 103rd-ranked Cerundolo, 6-4, 6-1, in an hour and 34 minutes to advance to Sunday’s title match against World No. 16 Carlos Alcaraz. The 14th seed from Spain upset defending champion and eighth seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), in two hours and two minutes during Friday evening’s second semifinal.

“It is a great feeling,” Ruud said during his on-court interview after his semifinal victory. “I am standing here smiling. I have had three tough loses in my previous Masters [1000] semifinals and I thought today was a good chance to reach my first final. I started a little shaky but I was able to pull through and raise my level when I really need to.”

Looking back, it’s been a dream Masters 1000 debut for the personable Argentine Cerundolo. Certainly, he’s come a long way since winning his fifth ATP Challenger Tour title in Santa Cruz, Bolivia three months ago. Considering he had never won a hard-court match at tour-level before arriving in Miami last week, he will embark for the European clay season on his favorite surface having won five matches on hard courts.

Reacting to his quarterfinal win by retirement after one set over Jannik Sinner, Cerundolo, who began the year ranked 127th, said: “It means a lot [to advance]. It is everything I have dreamed of. My first Masters 1000, my first semifinal, I might rise to near No. 50. This is going to change everything for me.”

After beginning the Miami Open with a triple-digit ranking, Cerundolo will rise to No. 51, thanks to putting together a string of victories over Tallon Griekspoor, No. 16 seed Reilly Opelka, No. 22 seed Gaël Monfils, No. 28 seed Frances Tiafoe and No. 9 seed Sinner.

While six of Ruud’s seven career titles have been on clay, his game has translated well on the slow Miami hard courts. He’s earned straight-set wins over Henri Laaksonen, No. 30 seed Alexander Bublik and No. 10 seed Cameron Norrie, and went the distance to beat World No. 4 Alexander Zverev. Now, he’s into his second final of the season after winning an ATP 250 title on clay at Buenos Aires in February.

“It feels good and it means a lot,” Ruud said after he earned the biggest victory of his career in defeating Zverev on Wednesday. “This is my first semifinal in a Masters 1000 on hard courts, so that’s a good feeling. I’m very happy to do it here in Miami.

“I’ve felt good the couple weeks I’ve been her practicing and the matches have felt very good. I want to, of course, keep going. Today [against Zverev] was my toughest challenge yet of the tournament and on Friday will be another big one. I hope I can take what I’ve learned from my three previous [Masters 1000] semifinals and bring it into Friday’s match.”

Indeed, Ruud did. He broke Cerundolo twice, including in the final get of the opening set to win 6-4. Then, he sprinted to a double-break lead at 5-1 in the second set after saving four early break points and won on his first match point with a brilliantly-placed ace. Ruud hit six aces, won 83 percent (34 of 41) of his first-serve points and was broken just once, in his first service game of the match. Ruud outpointed Cerundolo 68-50.

“Well, it mean’s a lot,” said Ruud, whose 2022 win-loss record improved to 13-3 and advanced him into his 10th ATP Tour final. “I think the serve helped me today. I made some clutch serves.”

Later on, during an interview with Tennis Channel’s Prakash Amritraj, Ruud acknowledged that he’s the highest-remaining seed of the 32 seeded players who began in the draw last week. “I thought about it because at the moment I’m the highest-ranked player left in the tournament. I know that this was a good chance to try to make my first [Masters 1000] final,” he said.

“Obviously, it was a tough match. The conditions were very, very humid and quite physical. Lucky I was able to pull through and not play a final set.”

Alcaraz ends Hurkacz’s Miami Open title reign

Eighteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final and ended the Miami Open title reign of No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz Friday evening. The No. 14 seed from Spain defeated the World No. 10 from Poland, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2), in two hours and two minutes in back of 22 winners. It was his 50th tour-level victory. Alcaraz’s triumph ended Hurkacz’s 10-match winning streak and it ensured he would become the second-youngest Miami Open men’s finalist behind Rafael Nadal in 2005.

“I have a lot of emotions right now,” the World No. 16 Alcaraz said during his post-match interview. “It’s something that you dream of when you are a child. It’s really good to be in the final here in Miami. I love playing here. The crowd is amazing. I’m going to approach the final like a first round, trying to mask the nerves. I’m going to enjoy it, it’s going to be a great final.”

Alcaraz’s breakthrough victory was a creative one, in which he relied on his potent forehand drop shot and won 11 of 16 opportunities. He also won 75 percent (61 of 81) of his service points. Although Hurkacz hit 13 aces and 23 overall winners, he also committed 37 unforced errors. While neither player was able to convert any break-point opportunities (both were 0-for-3), Alcaraz outpointed Hurkacz 88-79.

In the first-set tie-break, Alcaraz rallied from down 3-5 to win four straight points. Then, in the second-set tie-break, he benefited from some untimely Hurkacz miscues. Alcaraz hit a drop shot at 5-2 to set up match point, then struck a passing shot attempt that Hurkacz netted to end the semifinal.

Although Hurkacz’s singles run has come to an end, he is still alive in the men’s doubles final. Hurkacz and American John Isner, who received a wild card into the main draw, will face No. 6 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain Saturday afternoon in the title match.

Match tie-breaks determine outcome in women’s doubles semifinals

With none of the players participating in the Miami Open women’s doubles competition still alive in singles, it meant each team could go all out during their semifinal matches Friday.

In the opening semifinal, No. 1 seeds Veronika Kudermetova (ranked 6th) of Russia and Elise Mertens of Belgium (ranked 3rd) used their match tie-break experience that came from winning the the WTA 500 title at Dubai earlier this season to beat No. 4 seeds Coco Gauff (ranked 13th) and Caty McNally (ranked 10th), both of the United States, 6-4, 3-6, 10-2, in one hour and 22 minutes.

At a set each, it was all one-way traffic in the match tie-break as Kudermetova and Mertens jumped ahead 3-0. Then, after surrendering a point, the top seeds strung together seven of the final eight points to win and advance to the title match. They outpointed Gauff and McNally 59-54.

The second semifinal, also decided by a match tie-break, paired unseeded Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia (ranked 34th) and Yang Zhaoxuan of China (ranked 170th) against unseeded Laura Siegemund of Germany (ranked 40th) and Vera Zvonareva of Russia (ranked 93rd). The lesson learned was a simple one: never give up!

Siegemund and Zvonareva saved five match points from down 4-9 in the match tie-break and won the semifinal tussle, 3-6, 6-2, 13-11, in an hour and 29 minutes. They triumphed on their third match point opportunity as Siegemund poached a third-shot backhand winner from near the net. Siegemund and Zvonareva outpointed Alexandrova and Yang 64-57.

The women’s doubles final will take place Sunday afternoon following the men’s singles title match.

Saturday’s Miami Open order of play

By the numbers

• As Casper Ruud moves on to Sunday’s men’s singles final, his home country Norway has become the 33rd country to be represented in a Masters 1000 final. He’s also the first Scandinavian to reach a Masters 1000 title match since Robin Soderling of Sweden in 2010 at the Paris Masters.

• On Sunday, Carlos Alcaraz will attempt to become the third-youngest to win an ATP Masters 1000 title, behind Michael Chang (Toronto 1990) and Rafael Nadal (Monte Carlo 2005). Alcaraz and Casper Ruud have played once before, on clay last year at Marbella, Spain, won by Alcaraz 6-2, 6-4.

“Quotable …”

“It was not where I imagine myself playing my first Masters 1000 final [on a hard court], but I will take it. It is a great feeling and I am enjoying the city and the tournament.”

– No. 6 seed Casper Ruud of Norway during his on-court interview following his 6-4, 6-1 semifinal victory over Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina Friday afternoon.

“I’m really proud, honestly. … I feel like we, as a team, we are doing such a good job to get me ready. For sure like physically after the matches we are doing really good recovery, but also mentally with Daria [Abramowicz], I think before the match we have really good pep talks that are keeping me really focused on the job, because, yeah, I mean, it’s not easy.

“I try to use this streak as something positive and something that’s going to give me a kick, but yeah, it’s pretty weird situation that I’m in.”

– No. 2 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, who will rise to become the new WTA World No. 1 next week, on her 16-match winning streak. Swiatek avanced to Saturday’s women’s singles final against former World No. 1 Naomi Osaka with her 6-2, 7-5 victory over No. 16 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States Thursday evening.