What A Difference A Year Has Made For Ruud At Bastad

Casper Ruud (photo: Brigitte Urban)

BASTAD/WASHINGTON, July 20, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

What a difference a year has made for Casper Ruud. Twelve months ago, the popular Norwegian arrived in Bastad as the defending champion of the Nordea Open, after winning a title on clay in Geneva, then finishing runner-up to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Promptly, Ruud was booted in his opening match by eventual champion Francisco Cerundolo in a three-set thriller.

Fast forward and the 24-year-old Ruud is back in Bastad as this year’s top seed of the 55th edition of the ATP 250 clay-court event. He is seeking his fifth ATP Tour quarterfinal berth this season and the 42nd of his career as well as his second singles title of the year to go with his earlier triumph at Estoril on clay. Playing in his first match since suffering a five-set second-round loss to Great Britain’s Liam Broady at Wimbledon, Ruud won his 18th match on clay this season in 24 tries with a solid 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 96 Alexander Shevchenko of Russia.

“I’m very happy to win again here in Bastad. It was a tough year for me last year. I lost in my first match,” Rudd said in his on-court interview. “So, to get a win is good and very special in front of a Scandinavian crowd. I enjoyed it.

“It was difficult with the wind. The conditions were a bit challenging but I did good enough.”

Ruud jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after just 11 minutes and gained a double-break advantage by the completion of the fifth game. Along the way, he saved a couple of break points during a meandering 16-point game fourth game against the 22-year-old Russian, who earlier this season reached the third round of twin Masters 1000 events on clay in Madrid and Rome but has never beaten a Top-10 opponent.

Then, the World No. 4 recovered nicely from a break down early in the second set to pull even and broke Shevchenko at love to close out the one-hour, 18 minute second-round victory. Rudd won 81 percent of his first-serve points, broke Shevchenko four times and outpointed his opponent 68-45.

The outcome left Ruud happy and gave him plenty of time to head out to nearby Skansenbadet Beach for a quick dip in Laholm Bay to celebrate his win, which puts him just three victories shy of winning his 11th career singles title.

In Friday’s quarterfinal round, Ruud will take on No. 58 Sebastian Ofner of Austria, who advanced with a come-from-behind 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 53 Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain. Ofner took the scenic route to the finish line as he needed four match points to put away the two-hour and 32-minute opener on Centre Court after leading 5-1 in the final set.

The reward for the 27-year-old Austrian from Bruck an der Mur is he will play in his first quarterfinal match on tour-level since Kitzbühel six years ago. The victory was Ofner’s 16th in 33 career tour-level matches. All of his ATP Tour wins have been on clay.

“I think it was a great match,” Ofner said in his on-court interview. He outpointed Zapata Miralles 109-105 after converting seven of 13 break points and prevented the Spaniard from reaching his fourth quarterfinal on clay this season. “Zapata is playing really good tennis and as you saw today, it was very good. I’m happy with my performance today.

“In general, I have had a really good season this year,” added Ofner, who is 49-18 in all competitions in 2023. “I’m very happy with my performance all over the year. I’m looking forward to my quarterfinal match tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll have a good performance.”

Zverev does his talking on the court

Fifth seed Alexander Zverev, who is making news as much for his behavior off the court as he is on it, marched to his fifth ATP Tour quarterfinal of the season with a one-sided 6-1, 6-0 win over No. 122 Thiago Monteiro of Brazil. The 19th-ranked German needed barely an hour to advance to the last eight in his second Bastad tournament appearance and first since 2015.

Zverev was playing his first match since RTL first reported on Wednesday that the 26-year-old Hamburg native is facing a new assault allegation after a penalty order reportedly was sought in Berlin by his ex-girlfriend Brenda Patel, the mother of their daughter Mayla.

Between the baselines, Zverev won 79 percent of his first-serve points, saved both break points he faced and converted five of eight break-point chances against Monteiro for his ninth victory in his last 11 matches. He dropped just 21 points the entire match while scoring 30 points more than his overmatched opponent.

“I’m happy to be playing the way I’m playing,” said Zverev, who went the distance to beat No. 81 Alex Molcan of Slovakia on Tuesday in a first-round match that lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours. “Today was an excellent match. It was a much higher level than two days ago.

“It’s great to be here, it’s great to play. I’m happy to be in the quarterfinals. … I think I will go run 10 kilometers on the beach now. It’s still early and there’s nothing else to do.”

Next, Zverev will face World No. 7 and second seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who defeated 89th-ranked Russian qualifier Pavel Kotov, 6-3, 7-6 (4), in an hour and 32 minutes for his 15th win on clay this season to close out play on Thursday.

Rublev outpointed Kotov 78-65 and closed out the victory on his third match point opportunity to reach his third quarterfinal of the season on clay and eighth overall.

Asked to describe his Centre Court experience in his Bastad return after reaching the semifinals last year, Rublev said in his on-court interview: “It was tough. I mean, after grass court season, the first match on clay is always really tough. It takes time to adjust, a couple of matches to get your confidence. I’m happy I was able to win today and to perform well in these tough conditions. I’m happy to be back.”

Ruud speaks out in defense of Mikel Ymer

During his pre-tournament press conference, Casper Ruud spoke out in defense of fellow Scandinavian and 51st-ranked Mikel Ymer of Sweden, who was banned from tennis for 18 months after missing three out-of-competition doping tests in a 12-month period.

Tuesday’s decision came from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after it partially upheld an appeal from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

“It’s a shame! He is a friend and someone I know personally,” Ruud said. “For 18 months, he will not be able to participate in tournaments and will have no income. It’s going to be a tough time for him and I hope he can get through it.

“What is surprising is that he was acquitted, but the union appealed. It is surprising. I thought the international federation was helping players and not trying to punish them. So, it obviously shows that they are not helping the players, in this case. Without the players, there is no tournament. The ITF should show it wants to help the players.”