Ruud v Cilic: Where the match can be won

A tactical breakdown of the match-up between the Norwegian eighth seed and the Croatian No.20 seed

 - Simon Cambers

Casper Ruud and Marin Cilic go head-to-head for a place in their first Roland-Garros final on Friday.

Eighth seed Ruud is looking to become the first Norwegian to make a Grand Slam final while No.20 seed Cilic is trying to reach his fourth major final, having won the US Open in 2014 and finished runner-up at Wimbledon in 2017 and the Australian Open in 2018.

The pair have met twice before, with Ruud winning both. Here’s a tactical breakdown of their semi-final clash.

Will the Cilic forehand hold up?

If Ruud is to make it three wins out of three against Cilic, he is probably going to need to stay away from the Croat’s backhand, which is usually rock solid, and instead target the forehand.

That’s dangerous, because when he’s on top form, Cilic’s forehand is a big weapon. Of his 252 winners struck here at Roland-Garros (which include service winners), 122 of them have come on the forehand, compared to just 32 on his backhand.

Marin Cilic, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Messieurs, 1/4 de Finale, Clement Mahoudeau / FFT

However, the Cilic forehand is also not flawless, with a slight kink in the back-swing that can produce errors when there’s tension or when things go awry. He’s made 102 errors on the forehand side, with 64 on the backhand.

Ruud, by comparison, hits fewer winners but also makes fewer mistakes. He’s hit 103 winners on his forehand and 37 on his backhand, and made just 65 unforced errors on the forehand and 40 on the backhand.

This one will be about risk and reward. If he’s going to win, Cilic needs to be aggressive, but can he find the balance against the more consistent Ruud?

Which man will be able to get the other out of their comfort zone?

Cilic has been enjoying his tennis with a smile on his face throughout, as you might expect from someone having the best Roland-Garros of his life.

The only time he’s not looked comfortable, though, is when he’s been at the net, where he’s won 61 points and lost 90.

So happy when he is on the baseline where the clay gives him that little bit more time to wind up his long backswings, at the net, he struggles.

He's not the best at improvising and he doesn’t have the soft hands required to play angles or drop shots of his own when he’s in the service box.

Marin Cilic, Roland Garros 2022, quarter-final© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT

Ruud’s drop shot could be important in this one. If the Norwegian can pull Cilic forward, the chances are he’ll be able to have plenty of success, be it with passing shots of his own or just creating uncertainty in the mind of Cilic.

On the other hand, Ruud has not had much success at the net either.

The No.8 seed has won 92 points and lost 138 when coming to the net, so Cilic might want to utilise his own drop shot, which he usually plays on the backhand side, or even the short slice, which he plays well.

Casper Ruud, Roland Garros 2022, quarter-final© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Nerves, experience, energy likely to play a part

For all the statistical analysis possible when looking at a match-up, it’s always hard to know how players will handle the pressure of an occasion as big as a Grand Slam semi-final.

On paper, Cilic has the experience. At 33, he’s spent most of his career near the top of the game and knows what it takes to win a Slam, having won the US Open in 2014, when he produced two outstanding performances to beat Roger Federer and then Kei Nishikori in the final.

He’s also a former junior champion at Roland-Garros.

In theory, Cilic should be less nervous than Ruud, who has never been this far before in a Grand Slam.

However, the Norwegian will take a lot of strength from the fact he’s beaten Cilic both times they’ve played before and as a former junior world No.1, he’s used to expectation.

In terms of energy, it’s a close call. The eighth-ranked Ruud has spent more time on court – 15 hours, 7 minutes compared with 12 hours, 14 minutes for Cilic.

But Cilic came through an emotional, tiring roller coaster against Andrey Rublev in the previous round, winning through after a deciding-set 10-point tiebreak.

Ruud needed four sets to beat Holger Rune and has slightly less time to recover compared to Cilic but he’s 10 years younger than the Croat and loves nothing more than to run around a clay court all day.

Seven of his eight titles have come on clay, including two this year, the most recent coming in Geneva the week before Roland-Garros. Ruud also leads the tour with 65 clay-court victories since the start of 2020.

How they handle the occasion will be key.