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Casper Ruud beat Marin Cilic at Roland Garros by channeling the man he’ll play in his first major final: Rafael Nadal
The No. 8 seed was steady for most of the match, but he came up with the risky winner when he needed it, too, in prevailing Friday evening at the Paris major.
Published Jun 03, 2022
HIGHLIGHTS: Ruud moves to 3-0 against CIlic
For the better part of two sets, Casper Ruud’s first Grand Slam semifinal hadn’t gone as planned.
His opponent, Marin Cilic, had taken the initiative in the early going, and powered his way to a 6-3 first-set win. Unlike Ruud, Cilic had made it this far at a major half a dozen times over the course of his 16-year career, and it showed. The 33-year-old was the one who was stepping onto the court and playing proactive tennis, while the 23-year-old Ruud couldn’t get out of his defensive crouch behind the baseline.
Ruud began to turn that around when he broke Cilic at the start of the second set. But when he stepped up to serve for that set at 5-4, he showed his inexperience again. He made two errors, Cilic hit a forehand winner, and suddenly the score was 0-40 and his comeback looked like it would evaporate before it had even begun.
At 0-40, Cilic pushed Ruud back again, but this time Ruud didn’t play a safe or tentative shot. He let an inside-out forehand fly that curled just inside the sideline for a winner. That shot seemed to loosen Ruud up, because he fired five straight first serves, saved all three break points, and held for the set by putting a backhand onto the sideline for another winner. From there, Ruud would lose just four more games on his way to a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win.
“It was a great match from my side,” Ruud said. “I didn’t start the greatest, but Marin also played very well in the first set. I was too defensive. From the [second-set] break, I played some of my best tennis this year. Serving well, playing aggressive.”
Ruud’s 16 aces—does he has the most underrated serve in tennis?—and 41 winners against just 21 errors will attest to his excellent play. He proved to be a very quick study when it came to adjusting to the major-semifinal stage.
Did the shot that launched him to victory—that forehand winner when he was down 0-40—remind you of someone else? The man he’ll face in the Roland Garros final, perhaps, Rafael Nadal? Nadal has always had a knack for hitting himself out of jams, and he has been especially Houdini-esque over his last three matches. Against Felix Auger Aliassime, Novak Djokovic, and Alexander Zverev, Rafa has been boxed into corners, and has blasted his way out of them every time.
Ruud, of course, knows all about Nadal’s heroics. The Norwegian grew up idolizing the Spaniard, to the point where he began training at his academy in Mallorca in 2018.
“I’ve been looking up to Rafa, the player I’m going to play in the final,” Ruud said. “He never complains, he’s a perfect example of how I think you should behave on court: Never give up, never complain.”
The heavy-topspin forehand, the positive attitude, the good-boy behavior: Ruud has obviously internalized much of what makes Nadal who he is. But today Ruud showed that he also understands an underrated aspect of Rafa’s game: That the best way to beat your nerves and come through in tight situations is to attack, rather than defend. You need to be solid and steady most of the time, but if that isn’t working, you need to have the confidence to go for broke and take a risk that will take your opponent by surprise.
In that sense, the way Ruud won his match over Cilic was the perfect prologue to his final with Nadal. Now we’ll see if he has the confidence to do it again, when he faces the man himself.