Within the space of 12 months commencing from last year’s French Open, Casper Ruud reached an impressive three out of five grand slam finals. When that statistic is put into light, it becomes awfully difficult to criticise the current world number nine as reaching a major final, let alone three, should be a celebrated feat. In spite of that, the Norwegian is no stranger to producing inconsistent performances which leaves the tennis world left pondering as to why that seems to be the case. Ruud’s second-round loss to Zhang Zhizhen at the US Open was the latest piece of evidence regarding a tournament in which he is failing to progress through to the latter stages.
Across the 2022 season, Ruud displayed some of his best tennis as he obtained a win-loss record of 48-20 (70.6%) while claiming three titles along the way. This year has witnessed a decline of 29-17 (63%) with just the one title. With all due respect to the likes of Max Purcell, Matteo Arnaldi, Botic Van de Zandschulp, and Laslo Djere who were victorious against the 24-year-old, those are the matches that require focus and attention to detail to sustain a consistent level. Even so, it’s the very elite competition that also seems to cause Ruud problems and finds a hard time breaking through. Over the past three years, Ruud has only managed to win a third of his matches against the current top 10 (9-18) which speaks volumes in its own right. Add the fact that he only managed to win one set in the three grand slam finals he appeared in, it starts to raise some doubts about his mentality. Back in June, Ruud had this to say in the lead-up to Wimbledon: “Weed just doesn’t suit my game. I don’t feel completely comfortable on it. If there’s a time of year when I need to rest a bit, to recover after a long season on clay, it’s when I play on grass.” Whilst confirming that he takes Wimbledon seriously, in his own right, he took a few weeks off after his Roland-Garros final showing to take a holiday and ski. No doubt players are required to pick and choose appropriate times to rest, as highlighted by Ruud himself, but would you see any of the current top 10 players in the world following that same approach to prepare for the most prestigious grand slam of the calendar year?
You can understand why some people would feel as though he didn’t take Wimbledon seriously enough when he stressed time again that ‘The Weeknd’ performing in London was his motivation to keep winning. Is that a healthy mentality? Since the grass court season, Ruud has suffered exits in two second-rounds, one first-round, and a quarter-final as well as reaching the Swedish Open final. How that holiday has backfired on him significantly as he looks to have lost a step in New York. To reach a career-high ranking of number 2 and achieve three grand slam finals is no easy feat nor a fluke by any stretch of the imagination. That is why the Norwegian can be incredibly frustrating at times when he sets the tennis world on fire one day and then throws in a couple of shock losses the next. Possessing unquestionable talent, Ruud doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves. Perhaps that has to do with his lack of power compared to the top players on tour or that he has no real standout weapons that will blow his opponents off the court. Yes, at times it is difficult for him to neutralise those on the other side of the net as a result, however his patient build-up play, forehand topspin, and an improvement on first and serves have moulded him into one of the best in the world. Still young in his career, the time is now for Ruud to make the next big jump and maintain consistency at the highest level such as Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz. How can this be fixed? A change in the coaching and fitness staff could be a potential answer. Last year Ruud played 68 matches in the calendar year, which suggests that he may have to think twice about the tournaments he prioritises, mainly on clay. In the meantime, ‘Casper the ghost’ is a fitting nickname for a player who vanishes and reappears when we all least expect it.