Ruud steadies to deny Chinese first

 - Dan Imhoff

Last year’s finalist bides his time to reel in third-round debutant Zhang

Casper Ruud, 3e tour, Roland-Garros 2023©Loïc Wacziak / FFT

A tenacious Zhang Zhizhen will chalk it up to a learning experience, but for fourth seed Casper Ruud, his third-round victory comes as a timely reminder to the rest of the field.

The 24-year-old should never be counted out in Paris.

Outmuscled and outmanoeuvred for most of the first two sets on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Ruud steadied the ship for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 victory on Saturday.

Story of the match

Relatively under the radar heading into his sixth Roland-Garros, Ruud conceded he needed to play his way into contention following a mediocre clay-court lead-up by his own admission.

Through to the third round for the fifth straight year, the Norwegian was warming to the task, despite a late scare against Italian qualifier Giulio Zeppieri in the previous round.

His opponent on Saturday was already assured of reclaiming top spot in Chinese men’s tennis following his Paris breakout and was looking to become the first man from his nation to reach a Grand Slam fourth round.

Unperturbed at the prospect of meeting the highest seed left in the bottom half of the draw, Zhang had second-week ambitions and made a lightning start.

Zhang Zhizhen, Roland-Garros 2023, third round©Loïc Wacziak / FFT

Frustrated at his inability to make inroads on the world No.71’s serve, Ruud realised he needed to fight fire with fire to counter his 193cm opponent’s all-court aggression.

It was to little avail. With a set in hand, Zhang was in full flight and he threatened to take the reins early in the second set with five straight winners.

His only poor game of the set came at the most inopportune time, broken to love as Ruud squared the match.

It proved a pivotal moment. For the best part of the opening two sets Zhang was the better player but Ruud never went away.

He blew open the second set and imposed his heavy whipping forehand to take control as his opponent’s errors mounted in the fourth.

A fourth-round date with either Nicolas Jarry or Marcos Giron was set after two hours and 35 minutes.

Key stats

Ruud advances to the second week at a major for just the fourth time in 18 attempts.

Two of the four times he has progressed as far though he has gone on to reach the final, including last year in Paris.

The pair struck 39 winners each, with Ruud particularly dominant on his forehand, striking 36 off that side alone.

His 29 unforced errors were eight fewer than Zhang's.

What the winner said

On the match: "It was very tough. I was a bit frustrated at the beginning. I didn’t start as I hoped and he was hitting many winners. I didn’t really find a hole in his game. Then at 5-4 in the second set he got sloppy and that gave me confidence. I started playing better in the third and fourth."

On his demeanour: “I don’t feel so relaxed, maybe I look like it. Every match is stressful – physically and mentally. This year is the first time I’m trying to defend a big result. Last year I reached the final, so I feel a bit extra pressure.”

Casper Ruud, Roland-Garros 2023, third round©Loïc Wacziak / FFT