Casper Ruud has been within touching distance of getting to world No. 1 over the last six months.
Neither worked out for Ruud – and not much has gone his way this year either.
Coming off the back of a hugely successful 2022 season that saw him reach two Grand Slam finals on different surfaces (French Open and US Open), qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals and get to No. 2 in the world rankings, Ruud is yet to win back-to-back matches this year.
In trying to find reasons why, the obvious first one is potential burnout.
Ruud has played a lot of tennis over the last two years – 73 matches in 2022, 76 in 2021. Those numbers are similar to players around Ruud’s age and ranking like Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev, but are far higher than Ruud’s previous totals (35 matches in 2020, which was disrupted by Covid-19, and 42 in 2019). Ruud also tacked on a two-week, five-match Latin American exhibition tour with Rafael Nadal at the end of his 2022 season.
Just days after facing off at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin on November 17, Ruud and Nadal travelled to Argentina together. They played in Buenos Aires before also meeting in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico, where they played their final contest on December 1.
The tour meant that Ruud had limited pre-season training before heading to Auckland, where as the top seed he lost in the first round, and then to the Australian Open, where his hopes of getting to world No. 1 were ended in the second round by Jenson Brooksby.
Asked after the loss to Brooksby if the Latin American tour perhaps “wasn’t the best preparation for the Australian Open”, Ruud said: “I’m not sure. I mean, it’s very easy to sit here now and say that was bad for maybe both Rafa and I due to the fact that we lost early here.
“At the same time, I see no reason why we couldn’t have a good Australian Open or made better results down here. I think it’s coincidental sometimes.
“I think I have realised that there are, in my eyes, so many players on tour these days that you will have chance to beat, and there’s a chance you will lose to many players on tour.
“The margins are small these days, and I just realised that, you know, even though I don’t feel like a worse player or that I’m in physically worse shape than I was during the US Open, for example. There I made the final; here I lost second round. That’s how it is sometimes.”
Watch top five shots from final as Nadal beats Ruud to seal 14th French Open title
The Miami Open now looms large for Ruud.
Having made the final last year, Ruud has 600 points to defend at the tournament so another quick exit could see him slip down the rankings. He will also be keen to rediscover his best form before the clay, which, despite his hard court success over the last year, is still the surface where he has had most of his best results. If he does lose early in Miami it will be another chance to regroup and recover after an off-season that Ruud might not be repeating in a hurry.
“It was maybe not enough to be able to perform well here this year,” he acknowledged about his off-season plans at the Australian Open.
“So it will be considered by me and my team what we will do in December this year, and if this was the right way to prepare for Australian Open or not, who knows?
“Maybe it looks like it was not the right way, but there are many factors that come into play. I mean, let’s see, but yeah, I have done what I felt was the right preparation but wasn’t able to perform and win as many matches as I hoped here this year.”
The positives for Ruud going forward are that against Garin and Daniel he showed plenty of fight. If, as he said in Melbourne, the “margins are small”, then they may soon turn back in his favour. Plus, when will the opportunity to tour with Nadal ever come up again? Maybe never. And aside from making the French Open final last year, Ruud didn’t have a super strong clay season, so he has a chance to make up ranking points across several events, including Monte Carlo and Madrid.
Ruud’s position feels similar in some ways to Liverpool’s burnout following their quadruple-chasing efforts in 2021/22. Jurgen Klopp’s side have struggled to hit the same heights as they did a year ago, and only now are showing signs of rediscovering themselves. How long will it take for Ruud to return his best?
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