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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, April 13, 2024


Winless in 11 prior sets vs. Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud stunned the top seed, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 charging into his maiden Monte-Carlo final.

Photo credit: Julian Finney/Getty

Winless in 11 prior sets against Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud felt futility of mythic proportions—and a world of hurt—against world No. 1.

Ruud was pure Sisyphus perpetually pushing the stone up the mountain only to see Djokovic roll right back down on him.

More: Tsitsipas Stuns Sinner

Today, a resolute Ruud rocked Djokovic, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, to roll into his maiden Monte-Carlo final and a place in history scoring the biggest win of his career.

"It's fantastic. You know, it's, in my eyes, one of the all-time players to try to beat," Ruud told the media in Monte-Carlo. "Today I was able to do it. Something I can remember for the rest of my life and tell hopefully my kids in the future and my grandkids when I'm getting old that, you know, I beat Novak one time at least.

"It's a fantastic feeling. Obviously I hope I can play more times before -- you know, no one knows how long he plans to play for, but obviously he's getting older, but he's still physically in good shape and playing fantastic tennis. But it's always fun to play against him, because, you know, it's one of the toughest challenges in our sport. I'm very super proud and happy to overcome it today."

Two-time Monte-Carlo champion Djokovic made a fierce push rallying from 1-4 down in the decisive set to level.

Serving at 4-5, Djokovic saved two match points only to double-fault on match No. 3 giving Ruud an assist in his major milestone.

It is Ruud’s first win over a world No. 1 player in four attempts as he becomes the first Norwegian to defeat a reigning world No. 1.

Ruud chalked up the match-point miss to the power of prayer.

"When he missed the first serve, I was thinking he saved so many break points in crazy ways," Ruud said. "With a huge second serve or something like this.

"I just kind of prayed: Just one time let it be a double fault or something. I don't know. Something or someone above listened. Unfortunately, it's tough to end a match with a double fault but for me it was nice to see that ball sail long." 

Though Ruud was 0-11 lifetime vs. Top-3 players, including a dismal 0-25 in sets played, he did not flinch when his lead dissipated today, beat Djokovic in a couple of crucial backhand exchanges in the final set and hit some deep returns in the last game to rattle out errors.

It all adds up to Ruud’s second trip to a Masters 1000 final following his 2022 Miami Open final loss to Carlos Alcaraz.

The 10th-ranked Ruud will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final. Ruud has won two of three meetings vs. Tsitsipas with all three matches decided in straight sets.

Tsitsipas handed Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner his second loss in 25 matches this season with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory.

Two-time champion Tsitsipas benefited from a no-call on his own double fault in the final set—the serve was wide but neither the linesperson nor chair umpire Aurelie Tourte called it. Had the ball been correctly called a double fault Sinner would have been up a double break. Instead, Tsitsipas won five of the last six games to beat the world No. 2 for the sixth time in nine meetings.

Afterward, Djokovic said Ruud's relentless consistency—and his own sloppy first and last games of the match—were kesy to his demise.

"Of course I'm disappointed, you know, to lose a match like this. Was close one," Djokovic said. "Congratulations to Casper. He played really good, especially in the beginning of the first and third, as well.

"I had my chances, but yeah, last game was not great. Unforced errors and just he was solid I think until the last shot and deserved to win. My game was kind of up and down.

"I mean, the positive thing is that I kind of managed to come back after losing the first set and really find the strength in the game. So there are positives to take away from this tournament, for sure, but of course disappointed with the loss."

The second semifinalists of the day have a history and it was a horrific one for Ruud—until today.

Determined to flip the script, Ruud came out firing his forehand with ambition. A diagonal forehand bolt earned Ruud the break in the opening game.

Exploiting a scatter-shot performance from the Serbian superstar, Ruud surged to a 4-1 lead.

A curling serve and soft high backhand volley sealed a strong hold as Djokovic crept closer, 3-4.

Donning a black Yonex baseball cap to ward off the setting sun, Ruud issued his strongest hold since the second game for 5-3. Djokovic smacked his first ace capping the ninth game and forcing Ruud to serve out the set.

A biting body serve set up Ruud’s twisting topspin forehand for set points.

One final forehand sealed Ruud’s first-ever set over Djokovic in 50 minutes, snapping an ignominious 0-11 set record vs. the world No. 1.

The top seed littered the court with 16 unforced errors compared to nine for Ruud in the opening set.

As the set progressed, Djokovic cleaned up his act considerably and that carried over into the start of the second set.

Firing a forehand strike down the line brought the top seed break point. Djokovic rattled out an error breaking for a 2-0 second-set lead.

After running Ruud with forehand force, Djokovic bamboozled the Norway’s No. 1 with successive brilliant drop shot winners backing up the break at love for 3-0.

The Grand Slam king’s backhand superiority is one reason he’s dominated this match-up—his assertive court positioning is another.

Even though Ruud had looks at plenty of second serves, his return position—so close to the back wall he could read the linesman’s wristwatch—gave Djokovic ample space to explore short angles and drop shots.

A horrid two double fault game from Ruud gifted the second break and a 5-1 lead to Djokovic.

The two-time champion cracked a backhand winner down the line for set point then slid the wide serve to snatch the second set and force a decider after 88 minutes.

Despite serving just 24 percent in the second set that saw him land only five first serves, Djokovic still dominated winning 13 of 16 second-serve points as Ruud resisted the option of moving up to attack some second serves.

Though Ruud was beaten in key backhand crosscourt exchanges in the second set, it didn’t dampen his spirit to go two-hander to two-hander in the decider.

Boldly banging his backhand down the line brought Ruud a break point. The French Open finalist won a forehand crosscourt exchange to break for a 2-0 third-set lead.

Serving with authority, Ruud held at 15 for 4-1.

Some fans were chanting “Nole! Nole!” at the start of the seventh game. The man in black betrayed his own cause shoveling a drop shot into the middle of the net to fall behind love-30. Djokovic belted a backhand winner down the line, punctuating triple break point with a shout of success.

Ruud tried coming forward, but the swarming Serbian swept his two hander down the line breaking at love to get back on serve in the seventh game.

Disrupted by a fan incorrectly calling out, Djokovic dragged a forehand wide then turned and seemed to scream “Shut the f–k up!” at the transgressor.

Showing restraint, chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani did not issue an audible obscenity warning,. “Please don’t make any call during the rally,” Lahyani implored the crowd.

Djokovic charged through his third straight game to level at 4-all.

Serving at 4-5, Djokovic felt the Ruud return game sting him. A deep return drew a running error for triple match point.

A gritty Djokovic denied the first match point pumping an ace down the T.

On the second, Ruud floated a running lob long.

On match point No. 3, Djokovic missed a first serve then went into his longest ball-bouncing jag of the match before double-faulting. Ruud reached history with a two hour, 17-minute triumph.


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