Casper Ruud of Norway rose to the challenge as he defeated Russia’s Andrey Rublev 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(5) in a winner-takes-all ‘Green Group’ match to set up a semifinal clash with Daniil Medvedev at the year-end elite Nitto ATP Finals here.
The 22-year-old bounced back from losing his opening round-robin match against Serbian Novak Djokovic by defeating Cameron Norrie of the UK to set up a crunch clash against Rublev, with the Russian also holding a 1-1 record after two matches.
“The court is playing very fast and Andrey plays very fast,” Ruud said in his on-court interview on Friday evening.
“He rips the ball harder than anyone on the Tour and serves very well on his first serve. We all want to play under control and with initiative, but it is not easy against Rublev because he makes you run all the time and play defensively all the time. I knew I had to fight fire with fire. On the big points I think I played quite smartly,” Ruud told atptour.com.
With the pressure on, Ruud used his aggressive game on Rublev, hitting his powerful groundstrokes with precision as he rallied from a break down in the second and third sets to secure his victory in two hours and 24 minutes.
The world No. 8 has finished second in the Green Group behind Djokovic and will face Medvedev in the last four later on Saturday, while the world No. 1 will play Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the other semifinal.
“I am just enjoying the moment,” Ruud said. “I am looking forward to the semifinal already. It is going to be another tough battle, different kind of player, but one of the best in the world and he (Medvedev) has proven himself as one of the best over the past two or three years. I have played against him a couple of times and lost both, but I know a little bit about what I am going to face and it is going to be a fun challenge,” said Ruud of the US Open champion.
Ruud, who is making his debut at the season finale, fired 34 winners and broke Rublev three times as he rallied back to reduce his ATP head-to-head deficit to 1-4 against the 24-year-old.
The Norwegian has enjoyed a standout 2021 season, capturing tour-level titles in Geneva, Bastad, Gstaad, Kitzbühel and San Diego. Ruud also reached the semifinals at ATP Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Madrid and became the first Norwegian to crack the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings.
Rublev was making his second appearance at the season finale, having fallen in the round-robin stage in London last year. Earlier this year, the fifth seed clinched the title in Rotterdam and reached the final at ATP Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati.
“It is tough,” Rublev said. “Hopefully I can go through it to get a good lesson, which will give me a huge improvement.
“In the moment I got tight, which is normal,” Rublev said. “Casper played well. He has a great forehand. One of the best on Tour. He dictates with it and hits the ball well. Because I was tight, I was serving too slowly and he returned aggressively on the forehand and I could not do anything.”