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Casper Ruud navigates hard-court hangover with revitalizing Rome run, awaits possible Nadal clash
The Miami Open finalist earned his best result of the clay swing at the Foro Italico with a seamless victory over Jenson Brooksby.
Published May 12, 2022
WATCH: Ruud's best result of 2022 came not on clay, but on hard courts with a run to the Miami Open final.
It’s not always easy returning to your first love, something Casper Ruud has learned the hard way through a brutally unsatisfying clay-court season. The Norwegian made his breakthrough on the surface in 2021 with semifinal finishes in Monte Carlo and Madrid but after ending the Sunshine Swing with a maiden Masters 1000 final in Miami, rediscovering his dirtballer rhythm has proven tougher than expected.
Ruud may be turning all that around just in time at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, posting a 6-3, 6-4 win over Jenson Brooksby to reach his biggest quarterfinal in six weeks. Rather than embrace his original instincts, however, the No. 5 seed has redefined his relationship to the surface by returning to what worked so well at the Hard Rock Stadium.
The turning point seemed to come in the middle of his opening round against Botic van de Zandschulp, who had won their previous two encounters in addition to their opening set on Tuesday. Defying the Dutchman’s big serve, Ruud crept closer to the baseline rather than mimicking the far-back stance popularized by Rafael Nadal—one that comically puts players millimeters from the bleachers.
The gamble paid off and he broke serve three times in the next two sets to avenge a Munich defeat two weeks earlier.
“I was just thinking a little bit like I return on hard courts,” Ruud said of his “aha!” moment. “In the first set I was too far back and Botic was controlling the points too easily on his serve, so I had to do a change and it worked. It’s not always that you need to run back and defend. It’s obvious that you can play more styles on clay.”
With its heavy spin and exaggerated takeback, Ruud’s forehand makes him an instant contender for clay, but it was this more aggressive mindset that helped him convert his initial momentum into a Top 10 debut, an ATP Finals berth—where he reached the semifinals—and a near-perfect run in Miami, where he out-hit Cameron Norrie and Alexander Zverev, and fell only to Carlos Alcaraz in the championship match.
I was just thinking a little bit like I return on hard courts...It’s not always that you need to run back and defend. It’s obvious that you can play more styles on clay. Casper Ruud
He remained on offense against Brooksby, who had similarly underperformed since making the fourth round in Miami but earned an impressive win over David Goffin to reach the third round at the Foro Italico. Dictating play throughout, Ruud doubled Brooksby’s winner count but only struck five more errors than the American talent to end the 95-minute encounter with a +5 differential (29 to 24).
Ruud will face the final of Rome’s quarterfinalists—not childhood idol Nadal, as predicted. The 10-time champion fell to Denis Shapovalov from a set up on Thursday; Ruud defeated Shapovalov to win his first of five titles in 2021, in Geneva.
An alum of the Rafael Nadal Academy, Ruud has still never played the once and future King of Clay, who has endured his own hard-court hangover after an injured rib during his win over Alcaraz halted his scintillating start to the year.
"I try to learn from him every time I get to practice with him," said Ruud of Nadal. "On the court and off the court I think he's a very good example of how an athlete should behave, the values he has."
Having all but fallen off the radar of Roland Garros contenders, Ruud would catapult back into the conversation with a deep run in Rome. Should he continue combining clay-court technique with hard-court tactics, the 23-year-old is becoming harder to count out.