Casper Ruud has quickly evolved into one of the world’s best players on clay. The 21-year-old has racked up a 46-23 record on the surface during the most difficult stage of any athlete's career, the very beginning.
Earlier this year, he captured his maiden ATP title in Buenos Aires. Prior to Roland Garros, he reached the semis in Rome and Hamburg, racking up wins against Karen Khachanov, Marin Cilic, Matteo Berrettini, Ugo Humbert, and Fabio Fognini. Ruud plays with extreme discipline and margin. He will rarely go for an ill-advised winner. He hits heavier than almost anyone on tour, with the exception of his Friday opponent—Dominic Thiem.
The US Open champion looked brilliant in his early-round wins over Marin Cilic and Jack Sock, and while Ruud is a brutal third-round matchup on paper, don’t expect the Austrian to struggle.
Ruud was on the ropes Wednesday against Tommy Paul, but ultimately prevailed 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. He’ll need to raise his game more than a few levels if he wants to avoid a blowout on Friday against arguably the world's second best clay courter.
The Norwegian struggled mightily with his backhand return against Paul, who hit a kick-serve out wide on the vast majority of first and second serves from the ad side. Below, Ruud is completely out of the picture prior to the return.
That return position is fine if you hustle back to the baseline, like Rafael Nadal and Thiem do so well. But Ruud stays well behind the baseline, and leaves the door open for an easy drop shot winner from Paul.
If Ruud could barely handle Paul’s kick-serve/forehand combo, he’ll have no shot against Thiem’s.
There's just not enough pace on this return. Ruud will have to take some risks on Thiem's second serve.
Prior to the tournament, this third round encounter was marked as a potential trap match, but judging by Thiem’s form, and the updated Vegas odds, it would take a miracle for Ruud to pull the upset. Thiem is already a massive (-765) favorite. Ruud can rip forehands with anyone, but if he doesn't create better depth on his backhand return it will be a short day at the office.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem