ATP Finals: Can David overthrow Goliath? Casper Ruud faces the impossible mission in the Masters final

The context

It was not the expected poster for this last Sunday of the 2022 season on the ATP circuit. At least in part. In our pre-tournament roster review, Novak Djokovic and Casper Ruud appeared at both ends of the spectrum: the Serbian as the scarecrow of the test at the very top of the list and the Norwegian as a player at the end of the race at the very bottom. If it was difficult to be wrong about the first city given his liabilities in the tournament and his state of form, it is clear that the second has thwarted the predictions.

Barely a month ago, however, Casper Ruud conceded it himself: he had played too much in 2022 and had made a mistake by inflicting an Asian tour in Seoul and then Tokyo. After his brilliant US Open where he only missed one victory to double down with a first Grand Slam title and the world number 1 spot, the Norwegian seemed flushed, almost doomed to make up the numbers. Strictly dominated by Lorenzo Musetti in the round of 16 at Bercy, it was hard to see him finding a second wind.

Perfect debut for Ruud: the best moments of his victory over Auger-Aliassime

It was misunderstanding the joker whose perseverance and hard work in training paid off. Falling into the most affordable group in Turin, he regained all his feelings from his first match against Félix Auger-Aliassime during which he did not concede a single break point. Very solid mentally to style Taylor Fritz at the post in stride and qualify for the last four, he certainly experienced a slight setback against Rafael Nadal, but in a match without stake. Well rested, he proved to be much too solid for Andrey Rublev in the half and therefore passed a milestone compared to last year (he had then reached the last four for his first participation).

But the hardest part comes for Ruud who will therefore challenge the undisputed favorite Novak Djokovic for the title. Having arrived much fresher physically and mentally than in previous years, the Serb lived up to expectations. He did not lose, even though he seemed less comfortable during his last group match and his semi-final. “Nole” impressed again with his hatred of defeat and seems to have a nice margin on the competition even when it is not 100%. Here he is one victory away from equaling the famous record of 6 titles at the Masters tournament of Roger Federer. Can Casper Ruud stop him? The challenge is immense.

Face to face

  • No need to create an artificial false suspense: no, Casper Ruud has never beaten Novak Djokovic. In three confrontations, he never even took a set from him, even though he played it twice on his favorite surface, in two semi-finals of the Masters 1000 in Rome in 2021 (7-5, 6- 3) and 2022 (6-4, 6-3).
  • The two men have already crossed swords at the Masters last year. At the Pala Alpitour, the Norwegian had resisted well in the first set in the group match before seeing the Serb fly away (7-6, 6-2).

Fritz competed but Djoko popped up when needed: the summary

Their journey

Novak Djokovic

1st group match: defeats Stefanos Tsitsipas [GRE/N.2] 6-4, 7-6(4)
2nd pool match: beats Andrey Rublev [RUS/N.6] 6-4, 6-1
3rd pool match: defeats Daniil Medvedev [RUS/N.4] 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(2)
1/2 final: beat Taylor Fritz [USA/N.8] 7-6(5), 7-6(6)

Casper Ruud

1st pool match: defeats Félix Auger-Aliassime [CAN/N.5] 7-6(4), 6-4
2nd group match: defeats Taylor Fritz [USA/N.4) 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(6)
3e match de poule : est battu par Rafael Nadal [ESP/N.1] 5-7, 5-7
1/2 final: beat Andrey Rublev [RUS/N.6] 6-2, 6-4

They said

Novak Djokovic:I was not very reactive during this half, but you always have to try to find a way out. When I needed to serve well and get him to play one more shot, I did. I am very happy to have succeeded because it was not one of my best days in tennis. I am very motivated and I am hungry: there is one game left, I will give everything and I hope to win.”

Casper Ruud:Novak has no weaknesses. He had a great season but if he was unlucky with everything that happened to him. But you know, he’s human: two weeks ago he lost in the final against Rune. I’m sure he’ll feel a little bit of pressure too: there’s a lot at stake. I may be above him in the standings right now, but I feel like the underdog..”

‘The strongest, the most complete, the most feared’: why Djokovic is still the boss

Three stats to remember

35. If Novak Djokovic wins this Sunday, he will appropriate another record: that of the oldest player to have triumphed at the Masters, and quite largely. Because the current holder of the reference brand in this area is also Roger Federer who was “only” 30 years old when he won his 6th and last title in the event in 2011. The Serb is already the second oldest finalist in the tournament. behind Arthur Ashe in 1978… for 6 short days.

15. For the 15th time in his career, Novak Djokovic is guaranteed to finish a season in the World Top 5, having played 11 tournaments in 2022, for two missed Grand Slams and no points scored at Wimbledon where he was crowned (360 small units collected in Major). The Serb is one length away from the record in this area co-held by… his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (16 seasons finished in the Top 5).

1990. For the first time since 1990 and Stefan Edberg, a Scandinavian player will play in the Masters final. Thirty-two years later, the Norwegian Casper Ruud hopes to do better than his illustrious Swedish elder who lost at the time to Andre Agassi (5-7, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2). Nevertheless, Edberg had been titled in the event a year earlier in 1989 against Boris Becker (4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1).

Our opinion

As announced from the title of this article, this final looks like a remake of David against Goliath. All the lights (or almost) are green for Novak Djokovic: he has a clear advantage in terms of experience (8 finals to 1), he has always won against Casper Ruud (3-0) and he is hungry for wolf. Frustrated by a season almost half amputated because of his non-vaccination, he displays a lot of motivation with two additional drivers: the prospect of equaling Federer’s record of course, but also (and perhaps above all) to do it in front of his children.

Djokovic is on a mission. To be convinced of this, it is enough to remember his last group match against Daniil Medvedev: visibly diminished (assailed by tremors and in search of oxygen from the end of the second set), he could have let the match slip by. The Serb was already qualified and even guaranteed to finish first in his group. But he made it a point of honor to seek the win by drawing on his resources after more than three hours of combat.

Little at stake but only game: Djokovic-Medvedev, a 3h11 thriller summarized in 3 minutes

Paradoxically, its only flaw is perhaps in this effort that could be described as useless. Didn’t he deplete his reserves too much when he was perhaps ill? Djokovic also confided that he did not have a good feeling during his semi-final. Yes, but he still won it, giving the impression of tightening the game when he needed it. It is this impressive margin that does not encourage optimism for Casper Ruud.

It is not a question here of underestimating the qualities of the Norwegian who surprised his world – given his recent dynamics – and showed that he was now a safe bet in major events. With this final at the Masters, after those reached at Roland-Garros and the US Open, Ruud has also played the last match of three of the five major meetings of the year. That says a lot about its new dimension. But he lost the first two finals and faced with the monsters of the circuit, he seems to lack decisive weapons, despite his great rigor and solidity, a bit like a David Ferrer of the great era. In all likelihood, Djokovic should still leave his mark on history.

Our prediction: Novak Djokovic in straight sets.

Novak Djokovic at the Turin Masters in 2022

Credit: AFP

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ATP Finals: Can David overthrow Goliath? Casper Ruud faces the impossible mission in the Masters final