This weekend, the top eight male players will meet in Turin for the ATP Finals, but one notable player will be missing: Casper Ruud.
Casper participated in the Finals in 2021 and 2022, reaching the semi-finals and the final, respectively.
The 2022 result capped off an incredible year for the Norwegian with final appearances at the French Open, US Open, Miami and the ATP Tour Finals.
Add in three titles, along with semi-final appearances in Rome and Montreal, saw Ruud finish the year at no.3 in the world.
With no chance to defend his Turin points from last year, Casper is guaranteed to finish the year at no.11, marking his first time outside the top 10 since 2020.
Where did it all go wrong?
Following the ATP Finals in Turin last year, Casper didn't take a break but embarked on a tour of South and Central America with Rafael Nadal.
He arrived Down Under with virtually no points to defend as he missed the Australian Open due to injury in 2022.
However, Casper looked flat and went 2-3 over the summer including an early second round loss to Jenson Brooksby in Melbourne.
Early losses would define Casper’s season.
He played 24 ATP tournaments and only won back-to-back matches at seven of those. 70% of the time he either lost his first or second match.
It wasn’t all bad of course, Casper went on an incredible run at Roland Garros to make the final for the second straight year. En route, he defeated in-form Alexander Zverev and fellow Scandinavian, Holger Rune.
A title in Estoril, runner-up in Bastaad and a semi-final run in Rome were the other highlights of Casper’s year.
And ultimately, no.11 in the world is an incredible ranking. It’s just the inconsistency and the rapid decline from the player who almost became world no.1 just over 12 months ago at the US Open.
Can the Australian summer help turn it around?
The one bonus of missing the ATP Finals is a chance for Casper to rest and have an off-season earlier.
This break will provide him with ample time to prepare both mentally and physically for the upcoming year, beginning with the Australian summer.
He begins his year at the United Cup in Sydney where he is guaranteed two matches. He will meet Borna Coric (world no.37) from Croatia and Tallon Griekspoor (world no.21) from The Netherlands.
By rankings, these should be wins but they are the type of players he has consistently lost to in 2023. If he can start the year with wins here, it will be a huge confidence boost for Melbourne.
The Australian Open was previously a happy hunting ground for the young Casper Ruud. He qualified for his first-ever Grand Slam there in 2018 and had his first main draw win the same year.
In 2021, he made the Round of the 16 for the first time at a Grand Slam in Melbourne as well.
It seems Australia works for the Ruud family. His father Christian had his best-ever Grand Slam result in Melbourne, making the Round of 16 in 1997 taking Goran Ivanisevic to five sets at that stage. He also upset top seed Alex Corretja at the tournament in 1999.
Additionally, Norway caused a huge upset at the inaugural ATP Cup when they defeated the United States in Perth.
Australia works with Norway and with the Ruuds. This could certainly be the starting point of his 2024 turnaround.
Playing without pressure
By Casper Ruud’s standards, his 2023 clay court form was sub-par before the French Open. Besides his title in Estoril and the semis of Rome, he has very few points to defend.
With no real pressure to defend a large amount of points until May in Paris, Casper can build up a buffer on his favourite surface to account for any potential losses at Roland Garros.
Additionally, the worst in a way has already happened.
Casper wanted to maintain a Top 10 ranking in 2023 and hopefully make the ATP Finals. Both didn’t happen and the only way is up in the first few months of the year.
The pressure of defending the points from his amazing 2022 season is gone, and fan expectations have lowered.
Perhaps this freedom to play will turn into the results he needs.
With his success in 2022, there were many new sponsors coming knocking to the Ruud crew.
For someone who has followed his career for many years, it did feel every few weeks, Casper was pushing a new product or program. It’s what he deserves for his success but these extra commitments could be a distraction.
Additionally, he raised eyebrows with his “commitment” (or lack thereof) to the grass court season. Although his comments made sense logically (about having a break during the part of the season he is least likely to succeed), they did put unnecessary media attention on him.
The only other option Casper could consider to turn things around is a change in team. This is highly unlikely since his father Christian is his coach, and the family have a close-knit bond. It’s also been the team that has brought him so much success.
However, could this potentially be holding him back? Are the tough decisions being made?
I personally believe Christian should stay and Casper can certainly turn things around, however, if there is another poor season, it could become more of an option to consider.
So what will 2024 bring?
Casper can definitely turn his year around if he can find his confidence and his consistency.
There is always the chance that his 2022 season was one built in the “in-between” years of dynasties that some players can often fill.
However, if he still made a Grand Slam final in a “poor year”, he has more than enough to get back into the Top 10 and have another crack at a major title.
A return to the ATP Finals in 12 months time is definitely possible. It’s now all up to Casper (and Christian) to find the former magic of his earlier years.