By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Sunday, May 28, 2023
The French Open field is wide open, though one man stands as favorite, says Casper Ruud.
The 2022 Roland Garros runner-up cites world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz as the ultimate favorite in 14-time champion Rafa Nadal’s absence.
“It’s open,” Ruud told the media at Roland Garros. “I would say Alcaraz is, to me, the biggest favorite because he has won a slam before last year.
“Then him or Novak has to be sort of the ultimate favorite because Novak has won so many times. This year’s clay season has been maybe not what he expected, but I’m sure he has good confidence knowing that he’s won 22 slams already, and all the other players in the tournament have maybe only won one or not one, and obviously Wawrinka has won three.
“It’s a tough question to give one clear answer, but those two to me are maybe the biggest ones.”
Playing assertive all-court tennis, Alcaraz conquered Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 in the US Open final to capture his first Grand Slam championship and complete a riveting rise to world No. 1.
Afterward, Ruud recognized Alcaraz’s eye-popping speed that seemed to shrink the world’s largest tennis stadium court to the size of a chess board as his scariest strength.
“It’s like when someone asks about player’s biggest weapon, for instance, you tend to think forehand, backhand, serve, whatever it is,” Ruud said. “But sort of his movement is one of his many weapons, of course. It makes us other players feel like you need to paint the lines sort of to be able to hit a winner. Sometimes even that’s not enough.
“He’s very fast. He’s very quick. He’s a great mover. He can get to balls that we’ve probably never seen before.”
The fourth-seeded Ruud opens Roland Garros against a friend, Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer. Despite his struggles this season, Ruud says he’s ready for the Roland Garros challenge.
“In terms of my play I think I have a clear visual plan of what I need to do in order to try to win matches here. Every match that you play is going to be tough one, no matter if I play Elias Ymer who I’m gonna play on Tuesday or if I play a big server like Isner or if I’m playing, you know, a fast player like Schwartzman,” Ruud said. “They are all different play styles. I just need to focus on my own stuff. Hopefully that will give me chances to win matches here.
“Obviously last year gave me sort of belief that and sort of knowledge that it’s possible to go deeper for me.”
Ruud’s results haven’t been the same in 2023. Though he captured his 10th career title on the red clay of Estoril last month, Ruud has posted an 11-5 record on his favored dirt this season.
“I’m sitting here this year in a different position than I was last year heading into the tournament,” Ruud said. “So I think, you know, that’s something that is going to boost my confidence.
“And when we start on Tuesday, I’m gonna try to know and remember that also last year was first round was really tough. I played against Tsonga on Chatrier, it was four very close sets. Also tough match emotionally because it was his last match, so it was a tough challenge. I’m prepared for another tough challenge on Tuesday.”
Photo credit: Rafa Nadal Academy