Ruud Reaches ATP Finals Title Match With Rout Of Rublev​

Casper Ruud (photo: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 20, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

From the outset, Saturday night’s Casper RuudAndrey Rublev semifinal match at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy was all one-way traffic in favor of the Norwegian from Oslo. Everything Ruud hit turned to gold, everything Rublev got his racquet on turned to stone.

Not even a service break by the sixth-seeded Russian on the brink of losing after playing brilliantly against Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas a day earlier could change the outcome. But at least it gave the crowd something to cheer about besides Ruud’s ruthless excellence on the Pala Alpitour Centre Court.

By the end of the 68-minute tussle, after Ruud hit a third-shot backhand winner – his 21st winner against just nine unforced errors – the semifinal had become a whitewash, thanks largely due to the World No. 4’s powerful ground game and his all-court consistency. The outcome was never really in doubt. By the time he reached the net to shake hands, Ruud had garnered his 51st victory of the season.

Ruud won 6-2, 6-4 over the combustible Muscovite to move on to Sunday’s title match against World No. 8 and five-time champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who earlier beat American No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6).

“It’s tough sometimes because things are obviously going great, but sometimes they can go almost too well,” Ruud said in an on-court interview after his semifinal victory “So you feel like you can do anything with the ball and you can get a little bit ahead of yourself.

“I don’t think I did when I was serving for it [the first time]. Andrey hit some great returns, aggressive with the forehand. Of course, you tend to hesitate a little bit. Luckily for me, I go out there at 5-4 and serve with new balls, so that helps a lot. I knew that I had the backup break. I wasn’t stressing too much. Everything sort of was going my way today.”

Against Rublev, Ruud won 77 percent (27 of 35) of his first-serve points, converted four of four break-point chances, benefited from 23 unforced errors by the 25-year-old Russian as frustration set in and outpointed his opponent 56-40. It was Ruud’s second triumph over Rublev in five meetings – and the second time he has beaten him in Turin.

“I got a couple of good beatings from Andrey, so it was nice to sort of get revenge from that,” Ruud said. “And we haven’t played since here last year. I’m not going to get ahead of myself, but I guess I have a good thing going against him in Turin.”

Rublev, who won four titles in 2022, ended his season with a 51-20 win-loss record.

After reaching the semifinals in his ATP Finals debut last year, the 23-year-old Buenos Aires, Geneva and Gstaad champion is into the championship final in his second Turin appearance. Ruud is the first Scandinavian to reach an ATP Finals title match since Stefan Edberg of Sweden in 1990. If Ruud beats Djokovic to win the year-end finale Sunday, he would pass Rafael Nadal to become ranked No. 2 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

When asked in press about his title matchup against Djokovic, Ruud expressed plenty of praise for the former World No. 1 who is chasing after a record-tying sixth ATP Finals crown. “He’s a player that doesn’t have many weaknesses at all,” he said. “But he’s human. He’s had a great year. … But he is human. He lost two weeks ago to Rune in the [Rolex Paris Masters] final.

“It’s not like he plays these finals every day of his career, in his life. I’m sure he will also feel a little bit of pressure. There’s a lot on the line. [In the Pepperstone ATP Rankings], I may be ahead of him, but I feel like the underdog. He has won this tournament five times and I’ve seen them all on TV, how great he has played.”

Mektic and Pavic march into doubles final undefeated

For just the third time in Nitto ATP Finals history, Sunday’s doubles final will pair two unbeaten teams after Croatian combo Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic won their fourth match of the week. Saturday evening, they held off Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliovaara of Finland, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 10-6.

Mektic put away the semifinal victory on his team’s second match point after hitting a fifth-shot forehand winner at the conclusion of the one-hour, 39-minute tussle. It was the Croatian team’s 51st tour-level win of the season, while Glasspool and Heliovaara in their Turin debut ended 2022 with a 47-27 win-loss record.

Mektic and Pavic combined to win 82 percent of their first-serve points, saved all five break points they faced, struck 26 winners and outpointed their opponents 75-73.

“During the match there were some tough games on our serve but we survived it,” Mektic said in an on-court interview. “We were focused and we really wanted this win and I am so happy we gave ourselves a chance tomorrow.”

In the title match, the fourth-seeded Mektic and Pavic, who dropped just one set in group play, will face undefeated No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain as they attempt to capture their sixth title of the season after lifting trophies in Rome, Geneva, Queen’s Club in London, Eastbourne and Astana. The last time two unbeaten doubles teams clashed for the year-end title was 1991.

A year ago, Mektic and Pavic fell to the American-British duo in the Turin semifinals. So, there’s a chance to gain revenge in Sunday’s title match.

“I remember in the semis we lost a tough match,” Pavic said. “We didn’t drop our serve, they won in a match tie-break, and I am expecting the same thing. They like the court and the conditions. I am looking forward to it. That is why you play, to go on the big stage.”

Earlier Saturday, Ram and Salisbury knocked out top seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, 7-6 (7), 6-4. Mektic will be attempting to capture his second ATP Finals title after teaming with Koolhof to win in 2020.

Saturday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Sunday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic reached his eighth final at the year-end championships on Saturday, which tied him for third-most with his ex-coach Boris Becker. At age 35, he is the second-oldest finalist in event history – six days shy of Arthur Ashe at New York in 1978.

“Quotable …​”

“I absolutely feel like I belong. I think that I’ve proved that I belong in the Top 10 and I belong here. I just need to keep working hard.

“Fortunately for me, I think there’s a lot of positives to take out of this year where I finished. I finished where I did and I missed pretty much the whole clay-court season, didn’t have any training going into the beginning of the hard-court season. I was dealing with injuries and I still was able to produce a really solid year. I’m just excited to get back to work and keep improving. Next year [I will] look to cement my spot even more.”

Taylor Fritz, during his post-match press conference following his Saturday semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic.