Ruud Retains Geneva Open Title

Casper Ruud (photo: Jean-Luc Auboeuf/Gonet Geneva Open)

GENEVA/WASHINGTON, May 21, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Casper Ruud came into Saturday’s Gonet Geneva Open final in southwestern Switzerland having won five of the past six ATP 250 clay-court events he had played in and seeking his eighth ATP Tour title overall. It’s from this place of familiarity that the popular, 23-year-old Norwegian found himself on the eve of the start of Roland Garros, playing for another title on clay.

The World No. 8 from Oslo faced Portugal’s João Sousa, a 33-year-old Tour veteran once ranked as high as 28th but now settled in comfortably at No. 79. While Sousa had enjoyed past success in Geneva, reaching the 2015 final, Ruud was looking to be the first since Stan Wawrinka to win back-to-back titles in Switzerland’s second-largest city.

Ruud would get the job done but it wouldn’t come easy.

Walking out to the theme music from the popular Rocky film series, Ruud controlled the title match in the beginning and at the conclusion of the three-hour and one-minute drama. He won 7-6 (3), 4-6, 7-6 (1) in front of a near-capacity crowd of 4,000 at Tennis Club de Genève Eaux-Vives, which included 1989 champion Marc Rosset.

From early on, Ruud opened up the court with his forehand and broke Sousa in the Portuguese’s second service game. It would be one of two breaks of his serve on the sunny, warm afternoon. It was in contrast to Ruud’s ability to save break point after break point – seven in all during the match – putting on an escape act that might have made even Houdini proud. He was seeing the court well from all angles. Although Ruud was forced to win the opening set via a 7-3 tie-break, he proved to be a difficult opponent for Sousa to shake off.

Soon, things would change. While Sousa broke Ruud to go ahead in the fifth game of the second set and consolidated it for a 4-2 advantage, he had to work hard to keep the advantage from slipping away. Sousa saved a break point to hold for a 5-3 lead and it put him a game away from taking the match to a decider. Soon, Sousa leveled the title match at a set each by emphatically holding at love to win the 47-minute set 6-4.

In the final set, Sousa surged ahead by breaking Ruud in the fifth game for a 3-2 advantage as he continued to show great grit and determination. Following a couple of easy holds that pushed Sousa ahead 5-3, Ruud began his charge back. He held for 4-5 with a nifty backhand volley winner coming into the net, then broke Sousa, who was trying to serve out the title victory. Now, with the match leveled at 5-all, Ruud gutted out a service hold after earlier double-faulting on game point for a 6-5 lead.

However, Sousa wasn’t finished just yet. He would save two match points during a lengthy 14-point, 12th game and got the match to a third-set tie-break after Ruud hit a sixth shot forehand return long.

It was in the decisive tie-break, though, that Ruud reasserted himself. He jumped ahead quickly to a 5-0 lead, breaking Sousa’s serve twice along the way. Then, Ruud gained a third match point at 6-0 after Sousa air-mailed a forehand well beyond the baseline. On the Norwegian’s third try for the championship, Sousa dug in and saved another match point. Finally, Ruud won it on his fourth and last try. It came after Sousa hit a second-shot backhand wide of the baseline.

Ruud finished with 11 aces and won 71 percent (56 of 79) first-set points. He saved seven of 10 break points and converted two of eight. Sousa outpointed Ruud 114-113.

“It was one of the craziest matches that I have ever played,” Ruud admitted during his on-court interview prior to the trophy ceremony. “It was a lot of up and down. Sousa was close to winning and then suddenly everything turns around and this is tennis. It is always tough for the player who is not winning.”

The Geneva final was the first ATP Tour final of the season to be decided by a third-set tie-break. It was longest championship match of 2022, both in time (three hours, one minute) and in games (36).

In the end, Ruud had retained his Genva title and showed why he’s such a great clay-court competitor. After securing match and championship point, he allowed himself a simple on-court celebration by cracking a smile and raising his arms. Then, after he deposited his racquet at his bench, Ruud walked back out and raised both arms high and smiled proudly. As for Sousa, who will climb to No. 63 in the rankings by the time he reaches Paris, he could be seen sitting lonely at his bench. His head was bowed and his fingers were at work running through his thick scalp of hair.

“This win feels so good, but you have to give a lot of credit to João because he fought back from one set down and has been playing well all week,” Ruud said. “It was just a matter of one or two points today and luckily they went in my favor.”

During the trophy ceremony, Ruud congratulated his Sousa, calling him “an incredible fighter.” When it was his turn, the multi-lingual Sousa turned upbeat and gave props to Ruud and spoke to the crowd in both Portuguese and French.

With his title victory, Ruud became the fifth player this season to win multiple tour-level titles, joining Carlos Alcaraz (4), Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev (3 each) and Reilly Opelka (2). He’s also the second player with multiple tour-level clay titles, joining Alcaraz, who has three, and the second player to successfully defend a title won in 2021, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who repeated as Monte-Carlo champion last month.

“[Geneva] is a beautiful city,” Ruud said. “So nice to see full crowds again this year. To play a final on a day like this doesn’t get much better.”

Mektic and Pavic win second doubles title of season

Croatia’s Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic capped a winning week in Geneva by capturing their second straight ATP Tour title after winning at Rome last week. In Saturday’s doubles final, Mektic (ranked 5th) and Pavic (ranked 3rd) defeated Pablo Andújar of Spain and Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands, 2-6, 6-2, 10-3, in an hour and seven minutes.

After winning nine titles last year – including Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics and three ATP Tour Masters 1000 events – Mektic and Pavic have won nine straight matches and back-to-back titles heading into the French Open. They dropped just two sets the entire tournament in Geneva. Mektic and Pavic are currently ranked as the No. 4 team in the current Pepperstone ATP Doubles Team Rankings.

“I am really happy about the nine-win streak,” Mektic said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “We weren’t satisfied with our results before Rome but now we are in good form and looking forward to playing in Paris.”

Against Andújar and Middelkoop, Mektic and Pavic won 79 percent (22 of 32) of their first-serve points and outpointed their opponents 52-46. They converted three of seven break-point opportunities.

While this was Mektic’s debut in Geneva, Pavic was appearing in his third Geneva final, having won titles in 2017-18 with Oliver Marach. He now has a 12-1 win-loss record in the event. Mektic and Pavic have now won 11 titles as a pair.

“I have played [Geneva] four times and now have my third title,” Pavic said. “It is always a special week and I am always happy to be back here.”

By the numbers

The Gonet Geneva Open final between Casper Ruud and João Sousa was the first ATP Tour final of the season to be decided by a third-set tie-break. It was longest championship match of 2022, both in time (three hours, one minute) and in games (36).

“Quotable …”

“I have a lot of friends here and it is kind of a different feeling for me. I enjoy playing on the centre court and the club. I play good tennis here year after year. I am very happy with the title.”

Mate Pavic of Croatia, part of the Gonet Geneva Open winning doubles team with Nikola Mektic after their title victory