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PARIS, France – Casper Ruud may have crashed in his last two Grand Slam finals but the Norwegian fourth seed said after soaring into a second successive French Open title clash on Friday, June 9, that relying on autopilot could be his best bet to succeed.
Ruud booked his spot in the final for a second consecutive year by cruising past German 22nd seed Alexander Zverev, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, and will aim to win a maiden Grand Slam when he meets 22-time major champion Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
History-chasing Djokovic is aiming to leapfrog Ruud’s 2022 Roland Garros conqueror Rafa Nadal in the men’s overall tally and the 24-year-old Norwegian said the final would be his toughest challenge of the year.
But Ruud has a plan to go the distance.
“It’s just a matter of not thinking I ‘need’ to win this match, there’s a really big ‘need’ for me to win this match. That’s a word I try to avoid,” Ruud, who has never beaten Djokovic in four meetings, told reporters.
“Obviously in the beginning of the tournament, that’s what you feel more and what you think about more, this is important to try to get this win and get going in the tournament.
“But now I’m in the final. It’s been a great two weeks no matter what happens on Sunday and I’m going to of course give it my all, but sometimes you play your best tennis when you don’t think too much. It just goes into automatic mode.
“I’m just going to try to go out there and know that it’s going to be a long match, a marathon match, and play point by point, give it my all. Let’s see how that goes.”
‘Best tennis of the year’
Ruud’s season has ebbed and flowed but he has peaked during his deep run in Paris to reach a third final in his last five Grand Slam tournaments.
“I think this match and the quarterfinal was one of the best matches I played this year, so that’s a good confidence boost going into the final,” Ruud said.
“I know I’m going to have to play similar or better if I want to have any chance.”
“I’m probably playing the best tennis of the year so far. It’s been a tough one, but this sort of changes a little bit everything and how the year has been going,” he added.
“I’m going to see if I can try to use last year’s defeat in the final as a motivation… to try to play well on Sunday.”
A flawless Ruud easily dismantled Zverev in a battle of big-hitters.
Ruud, who was swept aside by Rafa Nadal in straight sets as the Spaniard won his 14th crown on the Parisian clay last year, endured an up-and-down 2023 season until his return to Roland Garros where he has returned to peak form.
But the 24-year-old will face the ultimate test in his quest for a maiden Grand Slam when he meets Djokovic.
“It’s going to be tough this year against Novak. Two of the toughest in history and will be the underdog again,” Ruud said.
“I know Novak is trying to be the greatest. I’m going to try my best. He’s going for Grand Slam number 23 and I’m going for my first, so there’s a big difference.”
Third time a charm?
Ruud swapped early breaks with Zverev before turning up the heat on a warm evening on Court Philippe Chatrier by pounding the German with some vicious, spin-heavy forehands to go up 5-2 en route to claiming the opening set.
Zverev, playing in a third straight Roland Garros semifinal at the scene of his season-ending ankle injury last year, wasted an early opening in the next set and found himself in trouble as fourth seed Ruud snatched another break in the seventh game.
Ruud extended his lead in the match and continued to control the rallies from behind the baseline to frustrate an error-prone Zverev in the next set, before storming into a third Grand Slam final in his last five events going back to Roland Garros 2022.
“I didn’t come here thinking I was the favorite to reach the final,” said Ruud, who also made the US Open title clash last year where he was beaten by Alcaraz.
“I was trying to take one match at a time. Let’s see how it goes from there. I was always thinking about how to defend this final spot… hopefully third time can be the charm for me.”
Victory put Ruud in elite company, as he became the fourth Scandinavian man to reach three or more Grand Slam finals, after Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg. – Rappler.com