Casper Ruud reaches first Masters final with win over Cerundolo

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Hubert Hurkacz may not have been the favourite to defend his title at the Miami Masters at the outset of the tournament, especially when he fell into the quarter topped by Daniil Medvedev, who cruised to the quarters with relative ease.

Meanwhile, Hurkacz came into the event with relatively modest runs for the season, just two top-20 wins, a couple of semis at the ATP Cup and Dubai, but out in the fourth round at Indian Wells.

Of course, he was not the favourite in Miami last year, either, but then look what he did. The quietly spoken Pole made his 2021 breakthrough with his first Masters victory, one of three titles in the year. Then ranked 37, he was the lowest ranked Masters champion in 16 years, and beat four top-20 seeds in the process. He went on to reach the semis at Wimbledon, where he scored a big win over Medvedev, and broke the top 12.

Now, it seemed like history repeating, as he put out Aslan Karatsev and then Medvedev to reach the singles semis—having already made the doubles final with John Isner.

Yet now he took on what was fast becoming one of the biggest challenges in tennis, an 18-year-old Spaniard named Carlos Alcaraz. And the remarkable teenager could overtake Hurkacz if he beat the Pole to the final, and himself break into the top 12 for the first time.

And make no mistake, after Alcaraz’s dazzling wins over both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Miomir Kecmanovic, and with an exploding level of support from the Miami fans, the Spaniard had worked himself into favourite status, not just for reaching the final but for winning the title.

He reached the semis in Indian Wells a fortnight ago, too, after winning the Rio 500, and made his first Major quarter-final at the US Open last September. His ranking when he lost in his first ever match in Miami a year ago was 132, and he was now bidding to become the youngest Miami champion, and the third-youngest champion in any Masters event.

His athleticism, power off the ground, speed and variety were sure to cause the much taller Hurkacz problems, so the Pole would have to deploy his own weapons to the full extent in his first meeting with the teenager: a big, swinging serve, winning drop-shots, and ample ability in the front of the court.

But that was for later: first was another first-time meeting between two 23-year-olds, and two men at the opposite end of the ranks in Miami’s 96-man draw.

The unseeded Argentine, Francisco Cerundolo, began the tournament ranked 103, courtesy of some strong performances in the South American ‘golden swing’, but he had nevertheless proven his worth on Miami’s hard courts, beating three seeds before advancing past another, Jannik Sinner, who was forced to retire with foot blisters in the quarters.

Cerundolo was therefore looking at a huge boost in his rankings irrespective of his semi result—on the verge of the top 50. However, he faced another man whose early triumphs came on clay, Casper Ruud, but the Norwegian was increasingly showing his all-court skill and fitness on hard courts, and had also beaten three seeds, including No10 Cam Norrie and No2 Alexander Zverev.

The former No1 junior won a personal-best 57 matches and five titles in 2021 to end the season at a career-high No8.

He had made the semis of all three clay Masters last year, but also the quarters in three hard-court Masters, so Miami was his first Masters semi on the surface, and it could propel him to a career-first Masters final and a new career-high of No7.

It was, against the odds, Cerundolo who got the first traction on the gritty courts in Miami, breaking at the first attempt. His advantage did not last long, though: Ruud broke straight back, after 12 minutes of tennis and with both already drenched in sweat.

It remained cagey and far-from-perfect from both men for the next few games, both making more errors than winners, but Cerundolo was the first to defend deuce on serve. Ruud, however, was struggling with his range and consistency, unusual for the Norwegian, and was seemingly very uncomfortable in the high heat and humidity.

But at the key stage of the set, Cerundolo serving at 4-5, made one too many errors, and Ruud took advantage, extended the baseline rallies to broke for the set, 6-4.

It was far from a scintillating set of tennis, with the heavy, hot conditions taking a toll: both made errors, both tried to keep it safe from the back of the court. And the second set began in similar style to the first, a double fault from Ruud bringing up immediate break points.

This time he saved them, and did so again in a nine-minute third game, coming through four deuces and two break points to hold for 2-1.

That seemed to impact the Argentine, who was then broken to love, as Ruud deployed his first drop-shot winner. The Norwegian consolidated with a love hold, 4-1, and with Cerundolo’s resolve broken, Ruud went on to serve it out, albeit tentatively, 6-1. And while it was far from the Norwegian’s best tennis, it took him to his first Masters final.

He said of his achievement:

“It’s a great feeling. I’m standing here smiling. I’ve had three tough losses in previous three [Masters semis]. I started a bit shaky, but was able to pull through… Yes, I think myself and probably the whole of tennis fans are a bit surprised [my first Masters final] is on a hard court!”

Now, all he could do was wait to until the night session to find out who would be his final opponent, Alcaraz or Hurkacz. He has never played the latter, but suffered one loss to the precocious Spaniard on clay last year in Marbella.

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia