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If you're a fan of Scandinavian tennis, Wednesday's qualifying matches at Roland Garros probably have something for you. Sweden's Rebecca Peterson, the second seed in the women's tournament, begins her qualifying quest against Misaki Doi, who less than two years ago was ranked in the Top 30. Elias Ymer, a highly touted 22-year-old from Sweden, follows his 0-6, 7-5, 6-1 first-round win with a match against experienced dirtballer Facundo Bagnis.
But as much as I enjoy Sweden's athletic exports, the New York Rangers fan that I am, I'm turning to Norway for the Tennis Channel Plus Match of the Day. That's because of Casper Ruud. Like Ymer, Ruud is a player you can expect to see more of in the coming years. But the future isn't the reason I'm following Ruud at the present. It's because Ruud's favorite surface is clay, and he grew up idolizing Rafael Nadal.
"Perhaps it’s no surprise the 19-year-old Norwegian notched his first ATP tour-level match win on the red clay of Rio de Janeiro early last season," wrote Blair Henley for TENNIS Magazine's 2018 season preview. "Not satisfied with a single victory, Ruud went on to reach the semifinals as the lowest-ranked player in the Rio draw. He collected two more ATP wins during the 2017 clay swing, propelling him to a career-high rank of No. 108 in the world."
WATCH—Ruud vs. Paul at the 2017 Citi Open:
Ruud is exactly 50 places below that career-high mark at the moment, primarily because he lost in the first round of Rio this spring. It led to a precipitous fall in the rankings, from No. 120 to No. 196. But if you remove that lost week from Ruud's results, his season includes a number of encouraging performances. He qualified for Auckland to begin the year, then won an 11-9 in-the-fifth match against fellow younger Quentin Halys in the first round of the Australian Open. Overall, Ruud has posted a 5-5 tour-level record.
Of greater relevance, Ruud has continued to play well on clay. He won four straight-set matches to reach the final of the Braga Challenger tournament in May, has defeated Marius Copil and Carlos Berlocq on dirt in ATP tournaments this year, and, most recently, ousted No. 5 seed Thiago Monteiro from qualifying at Roland Garros.
Ruud's confidence on clay makes his second-round qualifying match, against Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia, one to watch not necessarily for the quality of the contest, but for an early look at a potential clay-court star in the making. Still, keep these two things in mind:
—Galan, a 21-year-old ranked outside the Top 200, is well versed on the slow surface himself, having reached two semifinals at clay Challenger tournaments this season.
—As qualifying rounds progress, and the prospect of a Grand Slam main-draw berth—and all that comes with it—draws closer, players react differently. It will be compelling to see how both the underdog Galan and his opponent handle the added pressure on Wednesday.
This Week on Tennis Channel Plus
ROLAND GARROS QUALIFYING (5/21-5/25)
-Tennis Channel Plus features up to 10 courts of live action from Roland Garros Qualifying beginning Monday May 21 at 4:00am ET
-Miss any of the action from Internazionali BNL d'Italia? Catch up and watch all your favorite ATP stars anytime and on-demand on Tennis Channel Plus
*Matches subject to change