When the coronavirus pandemic rocked the world, tennis season came to a grinding halt. Tournaments were stopped midway through their duration, players went off to their respective quarantines, and the return of tennis anytime soon seemed like a distant dream.
The pandemic was particularly harsh on Emil Ruusuvuori. At 21 years old, the rising star from Finland was ranked at a career high World No. 101 when tennis paused. He was one ranking spot away from his top 100 debut, a huge milestone for all professional tennis players who achieve it.
A place in the top 100 in the world marks the unofficial transition from primarily a Challenger Tour player to primarily an ATP Tour player. While there really isn’t a functional difference between World No. 100 and World No 101 in terms of tournament access, being in the top 100 is a special achievement and a reason for celebration.
Players can finally start to see the mountaintop of the tennis world.
So, how did Ruusuvuori even get so close to 100 in the world to begin with? At the beginning of 2019, Ruusuvuori was World No. 385 and dropped as far down as World No. 410 in June of last year. Yet, by September Ruusuvuori was at World No. 142 and by year’s end World No. 123.
Last year, from June to November, the Finn reached five Challenger titles, winning four of the five title matches. . Even in Challenger doubles, Ruusuvuori was starting to find success. Perhaps the first warning shot to his fellow competitors, in May, he won his first Challenger doubles title with Jurji Rodionov. Then in July, partnering with Harri Heliovaara, he won his second career doubles title on the Challenger Tour.
His singles success at Challenger continued into January of this year. Ruusuvuori reached another singles final, but lost in three sets to former top 20 player Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Ruusuvuori’s game clearly started to mesh around the midway point of last season. What about his game is so hard to handle? The Finns’ game revolves around powerful play and an aggressive mindset.
Ruusuvuori has a massive, heavy serve that sets up his huge forehand well. He dictates play so well from the forehand side and can put even the best of opponents on the defensive.
Ruusuvuori voiced the need for forcing the issue on the court. In an interview with ATPChallengerTour.com writer Josh Meiseles following his first Challenger title, Ruusuvuori stated, “It’s really challenging that this level and everyone plays so well. It’s all decided by the smallest of things. A few points here and there can make the difference. I have to play closer to the baseline and be more aggressive.”
The potential in Ruusucuori’s game is best seen in his September 2019 straight sets Davis Cup victory over Dominic Thiem. Thiem was World No. 5 at the time, making an absolutely ginormous victory for the rising star Ruusuvuori and a showcase that he could play with the best in the world.
The Finn overpowered Thiem from the baseline, taking the racquet out of the Austrians hands, helpless, as Ruusuvuori dictated play. It must be said that the indoor hard conditions was an advantage for Ruusuvuori’s big game, but it was still a very impressive victory.
In February, a win over Dennis Novak at an ATP event in France marked Ruusuvuori’s first ever win at this level. It was yet another step in the right direction direction for the Finn. Although, Ruusuvuori started to see the difference in difficulty at the ATP level, as he didn’t qualify for any of his next three tournaments before the pandemic (although made the main draw of one as a lucky loser).
Since the pandemic hit, Ruusuvuori has just started playing exhibition matches again. He was a bit rusty for the first couple matches, but has still won all three matches he has played.
With news that the US Open will be played, tennis will be returning soon. It’s interesting to note that Ruusuvuori’s favorite tournament is the US Open. It would be fitting if the US Open is the spot of his top 100 breakthrough.
Of course, this is provided that Ruusuvuori feels like it is safe to travel to New York City (which he also lists as his favorite city to go to on the tour).
Currently, Ruusuvuori sits 13 points behind current World No. 100 Salvatore Caruso in the rankings. Given his young age, and how close he is to that 100 spot, it’s a near certainty that Ruusuvuori will reach that huge milestone.
The pandemic might have stopped Ruusuvuori for now, but the coronavirus won’t be able to hold him out of the top 100 forever.
And, with Emil Ruusuvuori’s potential, we might be seeing the Finn making his top 50 debut soon.
Main Photo from Getty.