After losing to Novak Djokovic in the final at ATP Paris Masters, world #2 Daniil Medvedev has bounced back in impressive fashion so far at the ATP Finals this week in Turin. The 25-year-old Russian is the defending champion at the season-ending finals this year. He seems to be well on course to retain his title. He sealed the top spot in the Red Group courtesy of his unbeaten run in the round-robin stage in Turin, storming his way into the last four.
While he was challenged by Alexander Zverev and Jannik Sinner in the group stage, pushing him into the deciding set tie-break, the reigning US Open champion had all the answers. On Saturday, in Turin, he will lock horns against the ATP Finals debutant Casper Ruud for a spot in the final. The 22-year-old Norwegian was the last to occupy his spot in the initial draw at this year’s season-ending finals. He has been enjoying a coming of an age season in 2021, claiming five titles so far this year. After suffering a straight-sets loss in his round-robin opener against Novak Djokovic, Ruud has shown resilience in overcoming Cameron Norrie and Andrey Rublev in three sets to book his semifinal berth.
His come-from-behind, hard-fought 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(5) victory over Rublev in two hours and 23 minutes on Friday should give the 22-year-old Norwegian plenty of confidence ahead of his semifinal showdown against world #2. Statistically, Rublev was the better player in comparison to Ruud in their virtual quarterfinal. Ruud struggled for a set and a half and was also a break of serve down in the deciding set. However, raising his level when it mattered the most, 22-year-old Norwegian won crucial points to prevail over the Russian. Let’s take a closer look at three key elements he needs to focus on if he is to upset the defending champion on Saturday.
#1: Ruud needs to serve exceptionally well
Ruud was vulnerable in his service games against Rublev on Friday. The Russian made him pay, breaking Ruud’s serve on four occasions. Ruud conceded a double break in the opening set. Ruud offered 11 breakpoints chances to Rublev and was the first to be broken in each of the three sets. Against Medvedev, Ruud will face a much tougher challenge in his service games with the world # likely to position himself deep behind the baseline during the returns.
While the Norwegian survived against Rublev, being able to break the Russian’s serve thrice, it will not be easy to break an in-form Medvedev’s serve.
Ruud must serve exceptionally well to stand a chance against Medvedev, who is a master of playing on hard courts. The way he serves should most likely be a deciding factor for Ruud in his blockbuster clash against Medvedev. He can neither afford to miss lots of his first serves nor cough up double faults on his second serves when under pressure against someone of Medvedev’s stature.
Ruud can take a leaf out of Djokovic’s book who beat Medvedev in the final in Paris. He must occasionally serve and volley, especially on his first serve against Medvedev to unsettle the Russian who prefers to return from deep behind the baseline.
#2: His heavy topspin forehand is his biggest weapon
Ruud’s heavy topspin forehand is his biggest weapon and he can dominate opponents with that shot. Ruud must fire off his forehand wing on all cylinders if he fancies upsetting Medvedev. The Russian will try to impose his ascendance by making Ruud exchange cross-court backhands. The Norwegian should aim to break that pattern by running around a few of those backhands to take more forehands.
The 22-year-old must be aggressive and willing to take a few risks by aiming for winners off his forehand wing. During his service games, Ruud must focus on the serve plus one shot. If he manages to take Medvedev’s return off his forehand wing, he will certainly stand a chance of setting up the point better with his heavy topspin forehand. He must look to attack Medvedev’s weaker second serves, especially off his forehand wing by stepping into the baseline while returning.
#3: Ruud must approach the net often to unsettle the Russian’s rhythm
Medvedev is relentless from behind the baseline and can effectively outlast just about anyone if he needs to. As a result, to win against Medvedev, Ruud must not only be willing to take calculated risks but also play out of his comfort zone to put pressure on Medvedev. He must approach the net more often to throw Medvedev off-guard, thereby shortening the points. While Medvedev is comfortable playing from behind the baseline, he is still vulnerable at the net and when he finds himself stuck in the middle of the court. If Ruud can manage to pull Medvedev closer towards the net, he can exploit Russian’s uncertainly at the net to bludgeon the passing shots.
Ruud must employ occasional drop shots to deceive the Russian, especially in the long rallies. Ruud is yet to win a set against Medvedev so far on the ATP tour, losing both of his encounters against the Russian in straight sets. Medvedev is in the form of his life and beating him on hard courts is an uphill task. But it is certainly not impossible, and Ruud must believe in himself and focus on the game plan to get better of Medvedev.
Embed from Getty Images