2021 ATP Tour Players to Watch: Casper Ruud

Casper Ruud in action ahead of the ATP Rome Masters

A shortened 2020 season meant that only nine clay court tournaments were played last year. Casper Ruud played in seven of those nine. He made two semifinals and two finals, winning his first tour-level title at the Argentina Open. Those strong clay results allowed him to climb from #53 in the world at the start of the season to #27 in the world at its conclusion. There’s no doubt the young Norwegian is a talent on the clay. The question is: can he do what so few clay court specialists have in the past and find success on other surfaces?  We take a look at what you can expect from Ruud this year in our 2021 ATP Tour Players to Watch series.

2020 brings breakout year on the red dirt for Ruud

Ruud is certainly an impressive clay court tennis player. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given he is a product of the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy. Nonetheless, in 2019 he went 27-13 on the surface with a win percentage of 68%. In 2020 he did better still, amassing a 17-6 win/loss record and a 74% win rate. Those are very good numbers no matter where you learned to play tennis. He played in seven Tour-level clay court tournaments in 2019 as well so the comparison is a fair reflection of the improvements the rising star made. However, he must improve his results on other surfaces if he wants to be in amongst the elite on the men’s tour.

Ruud’s record on hard courts on the Challenger Tour is respectable. He’s won 19 and lost 11 over the course of his young career. However, on the ATP Tour he has had far less success. his record stands at 16-27 at time of writing. That’s a win percentage of just 37%. As far as grass is concerned, there isn’t much to talk about. Ruud has played one tour level grass court match and he lost it.

The young Norwegian could easily decide to forgo the other surfaces in the most part and play out the rest of his career as a clay court specialist who occasionally has a decent run on the hard courts. Others who have done so recently and had decent careers include: Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Pablo Andujar, and Pablo Cuevas.

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However, Ruud is young enough and talented enough that he can enjoy success on other surfaces if he chooses to put in the work. He could join the likes of Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal in being favorites on the clay while also being serious contenders on hard courts at the very least. If 2020 is anything to go by, it looks like Ruud wants to do exactly that.

Hints of hard court ability in the last 12 months

In 2019, Ruud’s only result of note on hard courts at tour level was a quarterfinal appearance at the St. Petersburg Open. However, in 2020 he showed signs of potential on the hard courts. At the US Open, Ruud lost to Matteo Berrettini in the third round in straight sets. The big-serving Italian won the match in straight sets. However, Ruud gave a more than solid account of himself on the day in a match that was tightly contested. Berrettini made the semifinal of the same tournament in 2019 and is a Top 10 player, so there is no shame in losing to him.

Granted, this is a small sample size to draw from, but Ruud definitely showed that he has the potential to be a solid hard court player at the very least. Whether he works hard to fulfill that potential is definitely a storyline worth following on the tour this year and makes Ruud a “2021 ATP Tour players to watch” candidate. He will have to play far more on hard courts in 2021 if he is going to make consistent improvements on the surface. It will likely take time and patience to do. However, Ruud can draw inspiration from the journey of Dominic Thiem over the last two or three years.

Thiem has shown that it is possible to adjust your game and be competitive on any surface. His recent win at the 2020 US Open is testament to just how effectively he did exactly that. Ruud certainly looks to have the potential to be able to do the same. Whether he chooses to put in the work is up to him. Whether he does or not, the young Norwegian looks set for another solid year on the tour.

2021 looks certain to bring more titles

Ruud may or may not develop his hard court game to the extent we believe he can. However, he is still brilliant on the red dirt and a must watch in any clay court tournament. Given his strong run in a shortened 2020 season, we’re confident Ruud will add to his title tally in 2021. He’s a legitimate contender in any clay court tournament. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before he starts lifting big trophies on the surface. Only time will tell if he can replicate that ability on other surfaces. The young Norwegian has stormed up the ranks on the men’s tour over the past two years. The number of clay court events on the tour gives him ample opportunity to insure that rise continues.

He played eye-catching tennis last year and deserves a place in our 2021 ATP Tour players to watch series as much as anyone.

Main Photo from Getty.