French Open 2022: Ruud bounces back from emotional Tsonga match vs Ruusuvuori

Djokovic, Nadal, Medvedev cruise, but 13 matches take five sets, including Alcaraz, Tsitsipas, Zverev

Casper Ruud
Casper Ruud (Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky / depositphotos.com)

No surprise that world No1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic had cruised through two matches with ease: four games lost in his opener, 11 in his second.

No surprise either that 13-time champion Rafael Nadal had advanced in even fewer games. They remained on course for a quarter-final showdown.

In their quarter, however, was a clutch of players who had had to work considerably harder to make the third round.

No15 seed Diego Schwartzman came back from two sets down against Jaume Munar, 2-6, 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, and he was not the only seed in this half to find himself in trouble. Indeed two of the top players, No3 seed Alexander Zverev and No6 seed Carlos Alcaraz—the teenage star tipped for a big run in Paris this year—both had to save match-points in their five-set battles.

Zverev, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros last year and with three clay Masters titles to his name, had to use all his reserves to beat Estoril champion, Sebastian Baez, 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5.

Alcaraz, seeded No6 on the back of an extraordinary season that included two Masters and two 500 titles, not only saved match-point in the fourth set against Albert Ramos-Vinolas but came back from 0-3 down in the fifth to win 6-1, 6-7(7), 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-4. Not that things get much easier for the 19-year-old: He now faces No27 seed Sebastian Korda, who beat him in three compelling sets in Monte-Carlo two months ago.

The teenage Spaniard made a huge splash in winning the Madrid Masters, where he beat Djokovic, Nadal and Zverev, but whether he has the experience to make similar strides in best-of-five competition against possibly some of the same opponents remains to be seen.

The bottom half of the draw featured another slew of five-set openers. The stand-out was last year’s runner-up and No4 seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who had to make the third comeback of his career from two sets down, this time against Lorenzo Musetti. The Italian began to struggle with focus and intensity after his sterling early efforts, and Tsitsipas moved on, 5-7, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, to what he will hope is a less demanding match against the 134-ranked Zdenek Kolar.

Tsitsipas’s was one of five five-setters in his quarter, with Hugo Gaston thrilling the home fans to beat No19 seed Alex de Minaur—a notable effort for the 21-year-old. And it was not a dissimilar picture in the bottom quarter.

Like Djokovic and Nadal, the No2 seed Daniil Medvedev sailed into the third round, and while he faces the prospect of reclaiming the No1 ranking that he held briefly in the spring, it remains hard to see him as a title contender. For the tall Russian, despite having his home in France, has never been a natural clay-court player.

Twelve of his 13 titles, including the US Open and his four Masters, came on hard courts, and until his quarter-final run last year, he had never won a match at Roland Garros.

He has not looked close to losing a set yet, however, but did admit that his win over Laslo Djere had tested him hard—it took well over two and a half hours, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. Certainly his next contest against the fast-improving Miomir Kecmanovic, who beat Alexander Bublik, is likely to take things up a notch: The 22-year-old No28 seed is at a career-high after a string of quarter-finals this season.

There were several more intriguing match-ups on a day that would complete the second round in Paris, and test the fitness and stamina of many of the players.

Veteran Gilles Simon, who has announced that he will retire this season, would try to reach the third round after Paris saw not a single Frenchman get that far last year at Roland Garros. That Simon needed five sets to win his opener against the formidably fit Pablo Carreno Busta was a feather in his cap, but he now he took on Steve Johnson, who had needed his own four-setter to reach the second round.

It would be another feather in Simon’s cap if he won, though: He would notch up his 500th tour win, becoming only the third Frenchman in the Open era to do so. And with the exit of compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a tear-stained celebration from tennis earlier this week, emotions were sure to be high again as Simon took to Paris’s biggest stage, Philippe Chatrier.

By the time he did so, however, Hugo Gaston, the talented 21-year-old Frenchman ranked just 74, had given the home fans something to celebrate. Gaston, after his five-set win over de Minaur, made faster progress against Pedro Cachin, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Two more players survived by the skin of their teeth in Round 1: Nikoloz Basilashvili beat Maxime Cressy from two sets down, and Roberto Carballes Baena beat Oscar Otte in a fifth-set decider. Basilashvili, the No22 seed, could not survive Mackenzie McDonald, however: 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.

But back to those energy-sapping contests in the Tsitsipas quarter.

Casper Ruud, seeded No8 and with seven clay titles to his name—including two this season—had yet to make a big splash at Major level, though at age 23, he had made great progress since the pandemic lockdown. Indeed his first Masters final came this spring, on the hard courts of Miami.

He was one to watch for a breakthrough at Roland Garros this year, with 25 wins already to his name despite missing the whole Australian swing with injury.

However, it had fallen to the Norwegian to face French favourite, the retiring Tsonga: He would have to handle not only some scintillating tennis from the veteran but the entire Philippe Chatrier arena. It was hugely demanding, both physically and emotionally, though Ruud finally edged the win after little short of four hours.

Now he had to bounce back against fellow Scandinavian 23-year-old Finn, Emil Ruusuvuori, who himself survived five sets to beat another Frenchman, Ugo Humbert.

There was nothing between the two men in the early goings, with break chances on both sides. It was, though, Ruud who took the first advantage, a break in the sixth game, and he served out the set to love, 6-3.

The second set was tighter, with Ruud getting an early lead, 2-1, but forced to resist some big-shot strikes from Ruusuvuori: The Norwegian faced 15-40 in both the fourth and sixth game, but held on to his lead. The Finn’s win against Humbert was his first at Roland Garros, and he clearly believed he had the chance of a second, but Ruud finally consolidated his lead from deuce, 5-3.

It was then Ruusuvuori’s turn to resist, and he came back from 0-40 down with a drop-shot winner and two aces: Ruud had to serve it out, 6-4.

Although slightly the smaller man, just 6ft tall, Ruud was notching up more winners, while Ruusuvuori was mixing things up the more creatively, using drops and net ventures. If Ruud’s level dropped, he would find himself in difficulty, but in the event, his scattering of errors was outnumbered by winners. He broke in the third game, and the momentum was now firmly with the more experienced man. Another break for 4-1, and he went on to serve it out, 6-2, with his 41st winner, not a double fault in the match, a 70 percent success rate on serve, and with 17 from 21 won at the net.

It was solid, consistent, and tidy, and in a quarter that has lost a couple of seeds already, Denis Shapovalov and de Minaur. But there remain some dangerous players if Ruud is to reach a Major quarter-final for the first time. Next comes No32 seed Lorenzo Sonego, who beat Joao Sousa, 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4.

Hubert Hurkacz is scheduled for the fourth round, after he beat another five-set survivor, Marco Cecchinato, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. The Pole will first play the returning former top-10, David Goffin, who is heading back north in the ranks after repeated injury absences. He impressed against No24 seed Frances Tiafoe, 3-6, 7-6(1) 6-2, 6-4.

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