Casper Ruud Books Place In US Open Final By Battling Past Karen Khachanov | US Open Tennis 2022
Just over a year ago, after Casper Ruud navigated a tidy straight-sets win at a tournament in Toronto, he decided to have a little bit of fun. Handed a marker to sign the television camera, he opted to write a simple message: “hard courts”. He signed it off with a smiley face.
His point was clear. He had heard all of the criticisms of his abilities on the surface loud and clear, the way that people questioned and underestimated him, but he took them with a smile. He was still working hard, hopeful that he would continue to improve with time.
As he continues to stride through the greatest season of his career the understated tenacity and work rate constantly exhibited by Ruud continues to yield great success. Despite the pressure of being the favourite in a grand slam semi-final Ruud remained steady through his early nerves and gradually ground down Karen Khachanov, the 27th seed, as he became the first Norwegian man to reach a US Open final, winning 7-6(5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
By reaching the final Ruud, the fifth seed, has put himself on the verge of achieving the two ultimate achievements in the sport at once. Three months after being flattened by the unstoppable force of Rafael Nadal in the French Open final, he will once again play for his first grand slam title. Ruud will also become the new world No 1 next week unless Carlos Alcaraz, who faced Frances Tiafoe overnight in the second semi-final, wins the US Open.
So much of the recent history of men’s tennis has been written by three men, players who hoarded most of the grand slam titles, packed out the final rounds of events and, even when they did not win, absorbed so much of the attention.
For the first time since the inaugural US Open in 1881 four male players had reached their first US Open semi-final at once. Three of those four had never before reached any grand slam semi-final. There was no hiding from the full force of grand slam pressurebut the rewards were great for whoever was bold enough.
The significance of the occasion for Ruud and the 26 year-old Khachanov was reflected in mutual nerves early on. Neither player was able to play freely as breaks were exchanged, momentum changed hands and both made errors. As the set wore on, Ruud increasingly looked like the steadier, more even-keeled player.
Consistency won out as Ruud took the tiebreak 7-5 with the longest rally of the tournament, refusing to miss and scampering around the court in defence. On the 54th stroke of by far the longest point of the tournament Ruud stepped in and drilled a sweet backhand down the line, which forced an error from Khachanov and won him the set.
With a set under his belt Ruud played freely for a while but the third set brought some complications. Khachanov served well throughout the set and the pressure grew until Ruud’s nerves finally betrayed him at 5-6 as he dumped a forehand into the net on set point.
But Ruud demonstrated his mental fortitude by immediately bouncing back. He served extremely well in the fourth, landed returns and then took the decisive break with a spectacular running forehand down-the-line winner as he marched to victory.
There are more spectacular players around the sport, characters who generate more attention and hype, but Ruud has continued at his own pace, looking to improve every time he steps into the court. The result is two grand slam finals in a single year, an achievement none of his more prominent contemporaries have yet pulled off.
This time, with no 13-times French Open champion on the other side, a great opportunity awaits. Whether he can take it or not, the 23-year-old has made his intentions clear for the coming years. When Novak Djokovic and Nadal finally depart, the men’s draws may continue to open up and more opportunities will be there. With hard work, humility and a cool head, Ruud will continue to be in the frame.