Eleventh seed and former world number 2 Casper Ruud looks refreshed and ready to recapture his vicious 2022 form at Melbourne Park ahead of a scheduled date with Australian Max Purcell in the second round.
Having swept all comers at the United Cup in the lead-in, Ruud, son of former player Christian Ruud who reached a peak ranking of world number 39 in 1995, dispatched the crafty Albert Ramos-Vinolas on Margaret Court Arena 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 under the searing Melbourne sun on Tuesday.
Speaking post-match Ruud felt it was the “perfect way” to start his Australian Open campaign.
“I felt good”, Ruud beamed.
“Obviously it was a straight-set match, which is perfect way to start a Grand Slam. [I] get to have time to rest and get ready for second round, so it was kind of all business today. I think I played very well from the beginning to the end, so very happy with the level that I showed”
Such was his dominance against the Spaniard, Ruud recorded some ridiculous numbers registering 30 winners yet only 20 unforced errors while landing 80% of first serves and breaking Ramos-Vinolas six times himself.
Notwithstanding his brilliant best, Melbourne Park has not been a happy hunting ground for the three-time grand slam finalist. For all his efforts, Ruud’s best result, like his father's, is a fourth-round appearance in 2021. More recently, he withdrew from the 2022 event with an ankle injury and fell in the second round in 2023 to underdog Jenson Brooksby.
The Brooksby loss, while surprising on the surface, is not so upon further investigation.
After two grand slam finals in 2022, Ruud finished the year at world number 3. Not seeking a rest, Ruud flew straight from the ATP World Tour Finals in Turin to South America where the Norwegian played a series of exhibition events alongside his childhood idol Rafael Nadal. What followed was two-day trip home before a holiday to the Maldives. Ruud then arrived in Auckland for the 2023 season without the proper training block his peers had endured.
While Ruud tried to compensate with an ad hoc four-week pre-season after the Australian Open, in truth, other than a return to the finals at Roland Garros (loss to Djokovic), his season never got going as he fell outside the top 10 despite all his talents.
Unsurprisingly, when he then entered the press room after his win over Ramos-Vinolas, the dominant topic of inquiry surrounded Ruud’s off-season and whether he’d made any changes to the schedule that appeared to doom his 2023 season.
Asked whether he’d made any changes to his off-season, Ruud revealed he’d been guilty of lifting too many weights and compromising his mobility on court.
“I just had more weeks to train, both physically and tennis-wise” Ruud said. “I [also] have a new member in the team. I changed my physiotherapist, so Alex Strober is now traveling with me. He's been helping me also with the body, feeling good. I think it's paid off so far this year.
“I was doing too many, lifting too many heavy weights last year between the seasons, tried to build too much muscle.
“When I came to Acapulco [in 2023], I was around 84 kilos, because I had gained some weight with weightlifting.
“Currently now I'm around 79, 80, which I think is better match weight for me. I feel smoother around the court, moving better, and I also feel like that helps me play well.”
That alone however would not solve the Ruud riddle and help the 25-year-old breakthrough to his first quarter-final at Melbourne Park as he cheekily suggested that less gambling during his time in Melbourne was already paying off along with more favourable conditions for his topspin-heavy game.
“I try not to get dragged into the casino every night. That's been helping” he smiled.
“But, in all seriousness, I love coming here, even though I haven't had the best results compared to other slams. It's just really refreshing. You know, summer down here. Back home it's, like, dark and minus 15 degrees.
“The conditions the previous years I think I felt like it was little low bounce, the ball has been a little dead, in a way. This year I feel on a warmer day it's quite bouncy, so in a way that can maybe favour my topspin shots maybe a little bit more.”
Looking refreshed, Ruud will now turn his attention to local hope Australian Max Purcell who defeated qualified Máté Valkusz in four sets out on Kia Arena on Tuesday with the pair scheduled to play today on Margaret Court Arena.
While the Aussie, who got the better of Purcell in Cincinnati last year, says he “[doesn’t] see why [his tactics] can’t work again, Ruud however, will be counting on a change of fortune against the unconventional net-rusher with an unexpectedly large serve.
“He's a tricky player” Ruud observed. “Obviously I lost to him in Cincinnati. [But] I have beaten him once before, so we know each other well. We are the same age. We grew up playing juniors, traveling around at the same time, same places.
“He's an interesting play style. He looks quite slim, but he has a huge serve. You wouldn't think it, but he has a really good serve. He mixes it up really well. That was kind of what caught me a little bit off guard. He comes to the net, rushes you, and plays very different to what you're expecting in a way in this modern tennis.
“I'm going to try to do my best to get my revenge.”
Facing the winner of Ruud and Purcell will be the winner of 19th seed Brit Cameron Norrie and 22-year-old qualifier Giulio Zeppieri with German Alexander Zverev, who it has recently been revealed will face a criminal trial in Germany in May 2024 concerning domestic violence allegations, a potential fourth round opponent.