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Casper Ruud is a young Norwegian that has caught the attention of many tennis fans in recent years. At just 22 years of age, he has already racked up seven ATP titles. And he has enjoyed a career-high ranking of number 8 back in October 2021. Following his recent Buenos Aires success, Ruud is now back at number 8 in the world too. The Buenos Aires event was yet another clay-court triumph for Ruud, and many are speculating that he could emerge as the new ‘king of clay’ once Nadal retires.
Having seen the way he plays, I certainly cannot dispute those speculations. He is a fantastic athlete, he hits a heavy ball on both wings, and he is a fighter too. But among these attributes, what else makes Ruud one of the hottest prospects for the clay-court game moving forward? Keep reading to find out.
Can Ruud Take the Clay Court Throne From Nadal?
Of course, Nadal is by far the greatest clay-court player to have ever picked up a tennis racket. The man is a phenomenon, but as we all know, he won’t be on the ATP Tour forever. Fairly or unfairly, the circle of tennis life will continue and the great’s will gradually step down from the spotlight. This will inevitably occur over the next few years, and here is why I believe that Ruud could step up and become the new king of clay:
ATP Masters Performances
Casper Ruud hasn’t actually won a Masters event before. However, he has come close by reaching three Masters semi-finals already. The first semi-final appearance came at the Italian Open in Rome, back in 2020. The other two then came in the same season, where Ruud reached the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters, as well as the Madrid Open. In these events, he has managed to beat fantastic clay court players such as Tsitsipas and Schwartzman too. So clearly, he can take down the big guys on major stages.
Style of Play
Looking at the way in which Casper Ruud crafts points and how he strikes the ball, his game is ideal to be a clay court champion. His forehand is incredibly heavy, allowing him to work opponents all over the court, almost at will. At the same time, his backhand is solid, with Ruud throwing in very few unforced errors from this wing. On a clay court, he makes full use of these strengths too, hitting heavy from the back, and making the game very physical for his opponents.
Stage in Career
One of the biggest reasons why he could emerge as the king of clay is because the guy is still in his early 20s. As we have seen recently, tennis players are competing at the highest level deep into their 30s these days. So theoretically, if Ruud can stay fit and healthy, he has another 10+ years on the tour to rack up many more clay-court titles. That’s enough to win plenty of 500 and 1,000-level titles, and possibly the French Open multiple times too!
Casper Ruud Playing Style – A Closer Look
I’ve mentioned the playing style of Casper Ruud above. But I still think there is a need to explore Ruud’s playing style in greater depth. By doing so, I can really highlight why he is so difficult to play on the dirt. Of course, on the flip side of the coin, this also highlights why he is enjoying so much success on clay courts. So let me provide you with a better breakdown of Casper Ruud’s playing style to explain things in more detail.
Sheer Weight of His Forehand
Of all the shots I could take about to emphasize how suitable his style is for clay, it just has to be the forehand that I focus on. This is without question the biggest weapon that Casper Ruud has at his disposal. And this stroke is so effective from the fundamentals of his technique all the way through to the end result. He has a very ‘whippy’ technique which allows him to get under the ball and generate masses of spin.
This is something he uses to get the ball rising high on the opponent at the back of the court. But it’s also something he uses to great effect in terms of finding angles too. This was evident during his run at the 2022 French Open. Even if he did get outclassed in the final by Nadal!
Patience and Point Structure
To be a great clay court player, you have to be able to think through a point. Of course, you have to be willing to play a bunch of shots to actually win the point too. This is where the two ideas of patience and point structure enter my analysis. Ruud’s playing style is all about pulling his opponent around the court to eventually open up an opportunity to strike the winner. This is closely linked to his forehand, as mentioned above.
He does use the backhand to keep his opponents pinned back, sure. But if you watch him, and I mean really pay attention to what he is doing in the point, he is always looking for the forehand. Even if it takes 20+ shots to find the right ball, he will keep plugging away until he gets it.
Ideal Serve for Clay Courts
Another element that has to be discussed for Casper Ruud’s playing style is his serve. Given that he isn’t the biggest guy out there, he does what most shorter players do – he makes plenty of first serves and kicks his second. Mind you, I say ‘shorter guys’, but Ruud is still 6 feet tall, which seems tiny by tennis standards these days.
Coming back to his serve, however, I want to point out how well he uses the kick serve. This serve is largely used in tennis as a way to hit a somewhat aggressive second serve. But Ruud uses it for his first serve at times, especially from the ad-court. He generates so much kick on the ball that he can open up the court with this one shot alone. Of course, he immediately looks for the forehand following such a serve.
And who knows, maybe the Casper Ruud playing style will lead to our next French Open champion? He certainly came close this year. So the 2023 French Open will be one to watch, that’s for sure!