Ruud romps home to secure first major final

Eighth seed to meet Nadal in Roland-Garros decider after four-set triumph over Cilic

Casper Ruud, Roland Garros 2022, semi-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Casper Ruud has broken fresh ground as the first Norwegian to reach a Grand Slam singles final following his defeat of former world No.3 Marin Cilic at Roland-Garros.

The eighth seed was slower out of the blocks but found his range as darkness descended to pull clear 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

The 23-year-old set a showdown with 13-time champion Rafael Nadal after Alexander Zverev’s retirement due to injury during the earlier semi-final.

Following an ominous start to his clay-court season Ruud has timed his run to perfection.

A semi-final loss to eventual champion Djokovic in Rome was his last defeat.

His two-hour, 55-minute victory over Cilic was his 10th on the trot after a title in Geneva and his 66 wins on clay since the start of 2020 are the most on the men’s tour.

No.67 on Sunday would cap a remarkable ascent.

Only 12 months ago, an in-form Ruud exited in the third round to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, the third straight year he had fallen at the same hurdle.

A top-10 debut, six titles and a first Masters 1000 final in Miami since have emboldened him.

Marin Cilic, Roland-Garros 2022, semi-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Story of the match

With the roof re-opened following the first semi-final, neither player could be separated through the opening 30 minutes in humid, heavy conditions.

Following a four-set scrap with upstart Danish teenager Holger Rune, the Norwegian was soon under the pump when in a pivotal seventh game, 2014 US Open champion Cilic pounced.

A heavy cross-court forehand winner secured the first break and after fending off a challenge on his own serve, the Croatian took matters into his own hands, hammering an inside-out forehand to snatch the double break and with it the set.

Ruud was standing so far back to return serve he was almost pinned against the rear advertising boarding.

He had made little impact on the Cilic serve but after four bungled chances, finally made good on his fifth break point to edge ahead 2-1 in the second.

A slew of garish unforced errors from the 20th seed threatened to surrender the double break but another patch of brilliance – including an ace and forehand winner down the line – kept him within striking distance.

Casper Ruud, demi-finales, Roland-Garros 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Cilic piled on the pressure as Ruud made a shaky start to serving for the set.

He thundered a forehand cross-court out of reach on his way to bringing up three break points before his opponent conjured his best with his back to the wall.

A backhand on the line levelled the match at a set apiece and Cilic was in all sorts of trouble from the beginning of the third.

A butchered overhead long ended a six-minute struggle on serve before Ruud secured the double break with a deft sliced backhand passing shot for 3-0.

Despite some vulnerability serving for the third, it was an advantage he never relinquished as he bagged the set in 50 minutes.

The younger combatant had a spring in his step as he thumped a forehand winner to break in the opening game of the fourth.

He had one foot in the door of his maiden Slam final when a double break ensued and a first shot at Nadal was assured three games later on his 16th ace.

Key stats

The Croatian dominated on serve in the opening set, winning 75 per cent of first deliveries to his opponent’s 44 per cent.

Ruud made a marked improvement however, as he finished the match winning 71 per cent of first-serve points to Cilic’s 68 per cent.

He out-aced his bigger-serving opponent 16 to 10 and while Ruud’s 41 winners were 10 fewer, he committed just 21 unforced errors to Cilic’s 56.

Casper Ruud, Marin Cilic, Roland Garros 2022, semi-final© Philippe Montigny/FFT

What the winner said

"It was a great match from my side. I didn't start the greatest but Marin also played very well in the first set. I was too defensive and then I was able to break him in the second set. That got me going a little bit. From that break I played some of my best tennis this year, serving well, super aggressive, so I'm super happy with the performance today," Ruud said in his on-court interview.

"I think Marin is usually the one playing very fast and playing the balls very hard. That was the feeling I got. He was serving big, playing well coming to the net, so I guess I figured I need to step up a little bit and counter-attack and try to go for some faster shots and it helped. It worked out, so I changed a little bit but also raised my level.

"I guess I have worked on (staying calm) because when I was younger i was a bit of a cry-baby. I cried too much and was always too negative. But I guess I also grew up a little bit and matured over the years. Looking up to Rafa, the player I'm going to play in the final, he never complains and he's a perfect example of how I think you should behave on court - never give up and never complain. He's been my idol for all my life."