Tennis forums, public and private, will be heating up soon with lively debates about which man and woman will emerge from the red dust of the Stade Roland Garros proudly lofting the singles trophy. Barring unforeseen events in Rome, chances are that neither Marketa Vondrousova nor Casper Ruud will be at or very near the top of anyone’s list. Perhaps they should be.

The term “underrated” is tricky in tennis, a sport subject to the tyranny of official rankings. But if the word can also be taken to mean a player whose quality is overlooked, or who is flying lower under the radar than warranted by the record, both these players qualify.

Vondrousova, the  24-year old Wimbledon champ from Czechia (aka the Czech Republic) earns high marks with that small cohort of fans that reveres creative, unpredictable tennis—tennis that is more jazz than heavy metal. Currently, Vondrousova is ranked No. 6, so it’s hard to argue that she is denied her rightful place in the game. But in a sport crowded with stars and sporting celebrities, neither Vondrousova nor the compelling game she plays get the kind of respect or attention they probably deserve.

Vondrousova’s got an awkward game that makes you play poorly, so that when she does win she’s making you look bad more than making herself look great. I like the way she looks like she's not as concerned out there with herself and her game as in trying to make her opponent play badly. I actually find that to be one of the things I really enjoy when I see it. Jimmy Arias


“She’s a lefty and she’s not a big hitter so that’s already a little different,” Alexandra Stevenson, who created a sensation when she reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999, just two weeks out of high school, told me. “She absorbs your pace and she's able to redirect, which  can drive you nuts.”

That was exactly what Vondrosova did recently at the Porsche Tenis Grand Prix in Stuttgart over the course of her upset of No. 2 seed and reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka. Moreover, Vondrousova is one of those rare players whose crafty, creative game is effective on the two most disparate surfaces, clay and grass. Vondrousova reached the final at Roland Garros in 2019, at age 19, but even when she made her big splash at Wimbledon last year the ripples died out long before they spread through the general tennis public.

“Vondrousova’s got an awkward game that makes you play poorly, so that when she does win she’s making you look bad more than making herself look great,” Jimmy Arias, the Director of Tennis at the prestigious IMG Academy, told me. “I like the way she looks like she's not as concerned out there with herself and her game as in trying to make her opponent play badly. I actually find that to be one of the things I really enjoy when I see it.”

True, Ons Jabeur froze up and could not find her game in last year’s Wimbledon final. But poor play is often contagious and it can turn a match into a comedy of errors. Yet Vondrousova was able to keep her composure and game under control despite competing in just her first Wimbledon final.

“Marketa taking the moment in that final was huge,” Stevenson said. “It shows that she’s mentally tough in that position, especially because everybody was saying ‘This is Ons’ moment, blah, blah, blah.’ Marketa just took that occasion and ran with it.”

Vondrousova’s uneven record is partly due to serial wrist injuries that, starting shortly after she reached the Roland Garros final, caused her to undergo surgery and miss a lot of training and seven Grand Slam events. In the meantime, aggressive players who hit a big ball and have superior athleticism emerged to dominate the game. Thus she was more easily overlooked. As Stevenson said, Vondrousova’s ball doesn’t have a lot of “pop,” and she’s neither explosive nor visibly intense. In fact, she’s the opposite of those things.


“She doesn’t always look like she’s engaged,” Arias said. “Sometimes she looks like she’s out there on a walkabout.”

Sometimes that’s the price paid by creative players, but when such a player is inspired all things seem possible. Vondrousova may not get the accolades she deserves, but she is always compelling to watch—something that isn’t often said about her undervalued male counterpart, Ruud.

A 25-year old tennis pioneer from Norway, Ruud has a schooled, highly disciplined game. His tennis is smooth, conservative, short on offense but long on consistency and defense. Players like Ruud rarely become fan favorites unless they have great charisma, or some other source of flair, and Ruud is your basic, polo-shirt wearing, golf-playing, please-and-thank-you guy. But all that still doesn’t fully account for the extent to which his accomplishments have been overlooked, his heft as a contender ignored.

“Ruud was the guy who didn’t do much with the ball but who moved well, fought hard, won a lot of close matches.” Arias said. “That make him the kind of player I usually love. But he never seemed to be in the same league as the No. 1s of the era. But you know how they say that rats will survive everything and still be around? Ruud is like that. He’s a rat with a huge heart, the guy who usually finds a way.”


Up until mid-2022 it was easy to cast Ruud as a guy who only knew his way around a clay court. In the preceding 12 months he had barged into the Top 10, but it was mainly on the strength of his off-the-rack dirt game. He was able to dictate or even break down rivals with his forehand, but his backhand was just a rally tool and his serve was good but not great. Then, in the summer of 2022, Ruud took down (in order) dangerous hard-court players Tommy Paul, Matteo Berrettini, and Karen Khachanov to earn a place in the US Open final (He ultimately lost to Carlos Alcaraz).

That run was an eye-opener for many, including Arias. “Ruud has proven himself as a threat on hard courts,” Arias, who is also a Tennis Channel analyst, said. “It turns out his game wasn’t as easy to break down on faster courts as some thought.”

Ranked No. 7 at the moment, Ruud has also upped his clay game since his hard-court break through. He now plays with more risk, and has been more willing to redirect rallies or go for outright winners with his down-the-line backhand. The upgrades proved out earlier this year, as Ruud upset top-ranked Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, earned his first ATP 500 title (Barcelona), and became the first ATP player to record 30 wins this year.

That last accomplishment underscores Arias’s conviction that “[Ruud's] the one guy I always think, ‘He’s got a chance.’”  The same cannot be said for that less consistent WTA talent, Vondrousova. But don’t be surprised if either or both of them are features of the final weekend of Roland Garros.