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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Monday, November 21, 2022

Losing to Novak Djokovic in the title match at the ATP Finals was disappointing for Casper Ruud, but the 23-year-old Norwegian, who rises to No.3 in the world to claim his highest ever year-end ranking, can feel the progress he’s made in his game, and he likes it.

Tennis Express

“In the end it's been disappointing to end up losing these big finals,” Ruud said, referring to his losses in the finals at Miami, Roland-Garros, the US Open and the ATP Finals, which leave him without a title bigger than a 250 for his career.

But in the grand picture, at such a young age and improving so rapidly, Ruud seems to know the best is yet to come.

“Overall if you gave me an offer to end the year at No. 3, play the finals that I've played, at the 1st of January this year, I would probably sign the contract right away. No doubt about it,” he said. “I'm very happy with all that I've achieved, how things turned out, played out for me this year. It's been great.”

Ruud finishes an incredibly successful campaign with a 51-22 record – he has won 108 matches since the start of 2021 – and three titles. Most important, he reached four prestigious finals, three of which came on hard courts, thus proving his ability to be more than a one surface threat. Ruud has changed that narrative dramatically over the last few seasons. There was once a time he was thought of as a clay specialist, now he’s one of the most formidable forces on hard courts.

That said, Ruud admitted that he struggled to find answers against Djokovic in Sunday’s final. There’s a level of “hard court nuance” that he has yet to achieve, but it only leaves him hungrier to continue improving.

“Technically I'm not perfect at all,” he said. “Many things I can improve technically. But my base as a tennis player has improved a lot this last year. But there are many things that I can improve, many things that I still find uncomfortable, shots that I don't feel comfortable hitting, especially maybe moving forward, coming to the net.”

That’s the beauty of where Ruud is at as a player at the moment. He has proven that when he sets his mind to something he can make adjustments and improve his weaknesses. The same can’t be said for all players, but take one look at the difference in Ruud’s backhand – a shot that he has placed emphasis in strengthening – and we can see that he has that ability to evolve rapidly.

Add to that his desire, and respect for the craft, and it’s easy to imagine him being more lethal every year.

“All in all I think I can improve all parts of my game, which is a good thing,” he said. “I cannot tell you one thing specific right now. But in my mind I still believe that I can play better tennis than what I have done this year.”

Ruud, who currently owns a 0-9 record against the ATP’s Top-3 would be wise to compare himself to the towering forces at the top of the game. Using Djokovic and Nadal, who are 6-0 against him without ever dropping a set, as a measuring stick, will only force him to develop more tactics and tools to give him chances to win.

It’s how Nadal grew his game against Federer, and how Djokovic grew his game against both Federer and Nadal.

“I think those two players, Novak and Rafa, are exceptional of course,” Ruud said on Sunday. “They have this sort of ability in them to step up when they really have to that I don't have. That's something I can try to improve for sure. They always seem to win the close points, the close sets. I have been on the losing side when I played players like them.”

Ruud has had his moments against both legends, but he seems to lack the belief that he can beat them, in addition to the aforementioned tactical advantages that both have over him.

“I have played Novak [several] times now, and every set that I lost, not every set has been close, but some sets have been 7-6, 7-5, so on,” he said. “I just can't seem to step up when I really need to. That's what their abilities are so great and have been for so long. That's something of course I wish to develop, have confidence in myself, that I can do it.

“Hopefully this year can contribute to that confidence.”

Another, similar example, where fortitude eventually overcame a trend? Felix-Auger-Aliassime lost his share of finals, going 0-8 before breaking out and winning four titles on tour in 2022.

Perhaps Ruud will flourish once he breaks through a few more barriers as well. It’s unlikely that he’ll go many more years without a 500-level or Masters title – not if he keeps doing what he did in 2022, reaching finals on a consistent basis.

Those experiences, eventually, will force him to grow. They will pay off. And this explains the satisfaction that Ruud expressed in a season well-played. Extraordinarily played, in fact.

“I've had many experiences this year in losing these finals,” he said. “It's just going to try to motivate me to win them if I ever get to them again. If you look at the opponents I've played, it's been tough. You have to say that Rafa in Roland Garros and Novak [in Turin], it's probably some of the toughest challenges that we have. I don't feel very bad that I wasn't able to beat them.

“But it gives me motivation and a hunger to maybe next time. If I ever get to another final like this, I hope I can learn from what I have done this year and not been able to do and see how it goes. I just feel like I still have room for improvements, even though I'm very happy with my game and how things have turned out this year.”