Lean and mean Ruud ready to rumble

The Norwegian has featured in the past two Roland-Garros singles finals

Casper Ruud, premier tour, Roland-Garros 2024©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Perhaps due to Rafael Nadal's era-defining dominance at Roland-Garros and Novak Djokovic's all-time exploits, Casper Ruud's record in Paris may have been somewhat overshadowed.

Just last June, the 25-year-old succumbed in straight sets to Djokovic to collect his second successive runner's up trophy. Ruud has reached three straight semi-finals in Paris and Alexander Zverev now awaits him across the net on Friday.

It’s been an up and down period since stepping off the podium on Court Philippe-Chatrier last summer. By Ruud's top 10 standards, it's been patchy.

Between the American hard courts in August to finishing his 2023 season at the Rolex Paris Masters in November, the Norwegian only posted one quarter-final ticket.

Ruud needed a reset.

Coming into this campaign, he had showed shoots of a resurgence with hard court finals in Los Cabos and Acapulco, but sliding onto the clay has accelerated the world No.7's relaunch.

A three-set passage past Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals sent a signal to his rivals.

"This is a day I will remember for a long time. Beating a world No.1 is something I have never done and beating Novak is something I have never done," Ruud said in Monaco. "I am very, very happy. I am a little bit in a state of shock right now."

Ruud lost the Monte Carlo final against Stefanos Tsitsipas but the Norwegian gained revenge over the Greek a week later in the ATP 500 Barcelona silverware showdown for the biggest title of his career.

“Honestly, this has been worth the wait,” Ruud said. He had lost seven previous finals above the ATP 250 tier. “A lot of finals that I’ve lost have been tough. Any time you reach a final, it’s nonetheless a good week, so you can’t be too hard on yourself, but this one has been a long time coming."

Just a day before heading to Paris, Ruud collected his 12th career trophy on the clay of Geneva for the "perfect preparation" for Roland-Garros.

His agile, rapid movement has returned, his explosive shot making is finding its mark. The 25-year-old points to shedding four kilos off his body weight for his 2024 rebound.

“Last year in February I was around 84 kilos and this year I’m 80, so it’s 4 kilos less,” Ruud said at Indian Wells in March. “Maybe doesn’t sound too much, but it’s five per cent of my weight, which is something.

“After Australia last year, I took four weeks off from tournaments to do a little bit of a pre-season. We focused a lot on lifting weights and building mass. I was a little too stiff in my movements, too heavy. Not going to say I was bulking, but I was a little bit bigger than what I am now, and that led to me maybe not being as light on my feet, quick in the reactions and so on. That kind of bothered me a bit. I wasn’t quick enough.”

It hasn’t been a calorie counting exercise, or any pressure from outside voices, this has been Ruud's own journey, including cutting down on his consumption of sweets.

Casper Ruud, huitièmes de finale, Roland-Garros 2024©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

In the past fortnight Ruud has demonstrated his consistency on the clay.

Ruud had to dig deep to topple Alejandro Davidovich Fokina over five sets, No.28 seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry in four and No.12 seed Taylor Fritz also in four.

It hasn't been plain sailing, but Ruud has managed to find another gear when it has mattered.

On Friday, the two-time runner-up will hope for a repeat of last year's semi-final, where he dismantled Zverev 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.

Lean and mean Ruud is ready.

"I know if the opponents want to beat me, they're going to have to play really good tennis for at least three full sets, and I'm going to try to make it tough for them," Ruud said after the quarter-finals. "It's been working well the last two, three years here.  

"With my technical game I'm going to try to play heavy and play the kind of clay court tennis that I like playing.

"Physically I'm going to try to be in good shape and make them suffer if I can."