Interview: Casper Ruud is back in the winner's circle

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Did you really think that by early October, the man with the most ATP singles titles this year would be Casper Ruud? Likely not. But that’s now the case, with the 22-year-old Norwegian earning his fifth victory of the year—and first on hard courts—with a comprehensive 6-0, 6-2 win over Cameron Norrie in the finals of the San Diego Open.

Ranked No. 27 at the start of 2021, Ruud cracked the Top 10 on September 13, will rise higher as of tomorrow, and is now five-for-five in finals this year.

“This win today tastes sweet,” said Ruud.

From the start, Norrie was leg-weary, perhaps worn out by Saturday’s arduous semifinal win over first-seeded Andrey Rublev. The lefthanded array that sharply disrupted Rublev repeatedly betrayed Norrie on Sunday: numerous long or wide groundstrokes, weak serving, misfired volleys.

“I came up a little bit flat today,” said Norrie. “He managed to execute and I really didn’t.”

“This win today tastes sweet,” said Ruud.

“This win today tastes sweet,” said Ruud.

Meanwhile, Ruud was thoroughly in control, as he dispensed one deep drive after another, his forehand most of all repeatedly pushing Norrie into awkward positions.

“He played really solid,” said Norrie. “He didn’t do much wrong.”

Norrie’s only flicker of an opportunity came when Ruud served in the second set at 2-2, 30-all, a window Ruud slammed shut with a fine wide serve and, on the next point, a terminal forehand. If that’s your best opening, call it a bad day at the office.

But perhaps the bigger story than Ruud’s title run was how the tournament came to life. Only in early August was it determined that San Diego would host this ATP 250 event, the result of Asian tournaments being cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns. With such a swift timetable, tournament director Ryan Redondo hustled hard.

“We had to put a team together that had experience and strengths,” said Redondo.

The Southern California Tennis Foundation played a major role in helping the event happen. Chaired by Bill Kellogg, a longstanding USTA volunteer who for decades has also been president of the iconic La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, this organization’s mission is to bring quality events to Southern California. Currently, the only major pro event in the region is the BNP Paribas Open, the Indian Wells tournament that usually happens in March and this year gets underway on October 4.

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San Diego resident Rod Laver handed out the winner's trophy to Ruud on Sunday.

San Diego resident Rod Laver handed out the winner's trophy to Ruud on Sunday.

So, can San Diego’s one-off experience repeat itself? Redondo and his team would like to explore possibilities—perhaps a week prior to Indian Wells (only 125 miles away); perhaps sometime during the summer US Open Series. It won’t be easy, though. The prime spots on the tennis calendar have long been filled. And while there has been talk of staging 250 events during the second week of Masters 1000 tournaments, how can a tournament promote an entry field when it’s uncertain who will be playing?

Redondo’s ace in the hole is the passionate San Diego tennis community. San Diego’s high-level tennis history runs deep, including such Grand Slam champions as Maureen Connolly, Karen Susman, Brian Teacher, Michael Chang and many more notables—including resident Rod Laver, who gave out the champion’s trophy today. Redondo himself comes from a famed local family, his father Skip a prominent coach, his aunt Marita and uncle Walter each having had pro careers. But San Diego is also a city of recreational aficionados that play on a vast range of public and private facilities—an enchanting mix of world-class legends and grassroots zealots.

“The city really stepped up and showed how much it loves tennis,” said Redondo.

The same could be said for Ruud.