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Turin Preview: Novak Djokovic's sixth ATP Finals crown or Casper Ruud's biggest breakthrough?
The 21-time major champion is 3-0 against the Norwegian (6-0 in sets) coming into Sunday's intriguing showdown.
Published Nov 20, 2022
Casper Ruud vs. Novak Djokovic
For a year-end tournament that was missing the year’s top performer, the 2022 ATP Finals will close with a properly intriguing final. It pits a 35-year-old vs. a 23-year-old; a player who won one major this season vs. another reached who lost in two major finals; a guy who is trying to establish himself as a future No. 1 vs. a guy who is trying to reestablish himself as the best player in the world going into 2023. Djokovic and Ruud jumped out of the gates in their opening matches in Turin, and a week later they’ve out-distanced the pack.
There’s obviously more on the line for Ruud. A loss would mean three runner-up finishes in the five most important ATP events of the year. It would also virtually guarantee that the narrative around him next year will begin with the question, “Can he win the big one?” A title by Ruud here would make future Grand Slam wins seem more likely, and keep the doubters at bay—for now.
There’s also another, more personal subtext to this match for Ruud: Namely, can he stand up to one of the Big 3? He has played six matches against Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer, and has yet to win a set. Even Rafa, who was far from his best in Turin, handled Ruud this week. So far, as he has scaled the rankings, the Norwegian has maintained a healthy—perhaps too healthy, as far as his results are concerned—respect for his elders.
You could hear that respect again in the way he previewed this final.
“Tomorrow I know there will be a tough challenge,” Ruud said. “Novak in a final on an indoor hard court here is some of the toughest player you can play in the history of our sport.”
That sounds a lot like what Ruud said before he faced Nadal in the Roland Garros final this year, and we know how that turned out.
Ruud and Djokovic have played three times, twice on clay and once on this court at the ATP Finals a year ago. Strangely, while Ruud has traditionally been better on clay, he reached his only tiebreaker against Djokovic in that match.
“I know that I will need to come up with something I have not done yet against him because I haven’t been able to beat him,” Ruud said of Djokovic. “Just try to believe that I can win. It’s not going to be easy, obviously, but I will give it a shot, my best shot.”
Ruud has some advantages. Djokovic is 12 years older, and over the last two days he has played five tough sets, while Ruud needed just two fairly one-sided sets to get past Andrey Rublev in his semifinal. Ruud’s forehand may be the most effective weapon at this tournament so far, and he has faced down two big servers, Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger Aliassime, on this surface.
Djokovic, obviously, also has some advantages. He has won this tournament five times. He’s undefeated this week, and has survived several close sets in Turin. He seems driven to make himself the man to beat again before next year’s Australian Open.
But Djokovic has also been living in the edge over the last two days, and showing signs of physical wear and tear. It has been seven years since he won this tournament; Ruud looks sharp and fresh enough to extend Djokovic’s dry spell to eight. Winner: Ruud