Ruud wins back French hearts

 - Simon Cambers

Norwegian sails into third round with a little help from the crowd

Casper Ruud, Roland Garros 2022, second round© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

It takes a special person to go from villain to hero in the space of two days.

Having been in the awkward position on Tuesday of being the one to end the singles career of French tennis’s favourite son, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Casper Ruud had the crowd singing his name as he moved into the third round at Roland-Garros on Thursday.

The Norwegian’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over the talented Finn, Emil Ruusuvuori, sent the No.8 seed into the third round; another solid win for a man who many feel could make a big breakthrough at Grand Slam level this fortnight.

Ruud was cheered on throughout, recognition of his ability but also of the humble, generous speech he gave on court after beating Tsonga in round one.

“It's been good, because first match was obviously 98 per cent of the crowd was cheering for Jo, but I think they were very respectful towards me, as well,” said the 23-year-old. “They were not like booing or they were still cheering for my good points. That was a nice feeling.

“They are obviously passionate about tennis here in France, but I still think that they showed a lot of respect towards both players in the first round.

“I think as I beat Jo the last time I think maybe I gained some fans here in France and (it) seemed like some of them came today and were cheering on for me. I have experienced a great atmosphere so far.”

Ruud’s come a long way with French fans in the 12 months since he beat Benoit Paire in the first round in 2021.

“Last year was maybe one of the tougher moments I played here when I played against Benoit in the first round,” he said. “(That) was an incredible atmosphere, and we were playing on Court Simonne-Mathieu. That was also an experience.

“So I have had some French crowds against me, but I think today they were with me. It goes up and down.”

After missing the Australian Open in January due to an ankle injury, Ruud won the title in Buenos Aires and showed he can play on hard courts too when he reached the final in Miami.

Perversely, that success meant he took time to find his feet on clay this spring.

“Miami was one of the highlights of the year so far (but) it gave me less time to prepare for the clay than what I maybe thought I would have or expected,” he said.

“Plus I had like small, I wouldn't call it surgery, but removal of my wisdom tooth. After Miami I didn't touch a tennis ball for one week. Monte-Carlo started right away, so it was not ideal way to come into the clay court season.”

Casper Ruud, Roland Garros 2022, second round© Loïc Wacziak/FFT

But a run to the semi-finals in Rome showed Ruud’s peaking at the right time. And though he’s a quiet figure, from a country that is more used to having champion skiers than top tennis players, Ruud is now becoming a fan favourite, if not yet a household name.

“Especially if you're top 10, of course, you will feel a little bit extra love, I guess, from the crowd,” he said. “It's obviously a nice feeling. It's not too much either. I mean, you still have bigger stars than myself in the game. People are better players than myself.

“But I think, here in the tournaments, I will get more recognition than if I'm walking around in the streets of Norway. For me, the most hectic time is here in the Grand Slams.”