US Open 2022: Casper Ruud shines under the roof to beat Matteo Berrettini and reach semis
Ruud keeps No1 hopes alive, but New York is certain of new champion from eight remaining quarter-finalists
With the loss of all the remaining former champions in the fourth round of this year’s US Open—four-time champion Rafael Nadal, 2014 champion Marin Cilic, and defending champion Daniil Medvedev, one thing became certain. There would be a new men’s champion crowned in New York in a few days’ time.
And while there would also be a new women’s US champion, the last eight in that draw did still feature a Major champion and No1 player in Iga Swiatek.
Not so in the men’s draw: a brand new champion would add his name to the men’s Major honours board. What is more, there remained two players who could rise to No1 for the first time.
Ahead of the four quarter-finals, the beaten Nadal had, for the time being, taken over the top spot for the first time in over two and a half years. But to hold onto it once the US Open was over, he needed both world No5 Casper Ruud and No4 Carlos Alcaraz to fall short of the final.
And the draw had fallen in such a way that, should they both reach that final, Ruud and Alcaraz would also face one another to compete for their first Major title.
To the untutored tennis eye, such a scenario must have been unexpected. There would be none of the familiar stalwarts in the final—Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer did not play, Andy Murray went out in the third round, Nadal in the fourth. However, the US Open has regularly thrown a new hat into its final ring. Juan Martin del Potro, Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Medvedev won their [thus far] only Majors in New York, and Alexander Zverev his only Major final. This time, none of the eight quarter-finalists had ever made the final in New York.
So the quarter-final scenario pointed to the eventual and inevitable rise of another generation to challenge, and ultimately replace, the ‘old guard’: a story as old as time. The oldest among the eight was 27-year-old Nick Kyrgios, the youngest Alcaraz, age 19.
But make no mistake: each of the final eight had the quality to back up their places. Six had been ranked in the top 10, with all but one now ranked 13 or higher. The eighth, Frances Tiafoe, was the one who put out Nadal.
Three of them, all in the top half, had already reached a Major final. Kyrgios made Wimbledon this year, Matteo Berrettini Wimbledon in 2020, and Ruud reached the Roland Garros final after a storming run to the Miami Masters final. The titles of the 23-year-old Norwegian may have garnered him the ‘clay-court player’ tag—eight of his nine titles were on the red stuff—but the Norwegian was improving his all-court, all-surface game with every month he played.
Before the US Open, Ruud reached the semis at the Montreal Masters immediately after winning Gstaad on clay. Now he had surpassed his best third-round showing in New York with a run to the quarters.
But there, he played Berrettini, a big man with a huge serve and forehand, and a former No6 earlier this season after making the semis at the Australian Open. The Wimbledon runner-up had made the semis in New York in 2019, too, but his 2022 summer season was disrupted by hand surgery ahead of the clay season, and then a Covid infection as he prepared for Wimbledon.
Ruud had halted the Italian in the final in Gstaad, and Berrettini did not get a win out of Montreal or Cincinnati. He had also needed longer, tougher matches to get to this sixth meeting with the Norwegian, including a long five-setter in the quarters.
The two men began under the roof, making conditions heavy and humid. Even so, it was Ruud who was hot off the blocks, rather than the big-hitting Italian. The Norwegian laid down two holds plus a break, 13 points to just three to Berrettini: 3-0. The Italian was broken again, making too many errors, and while he got on the board with some big serves, the set was done and dusted 6-1, with another clean Ruud service game, in under half an hour.
Berrettini at last got the adrenalin pumping with a love hold to open the second set. Yet Ruud was moving so swiftly and nimbly that his attack-into-defence was undermining the Berrettini power. Ruud made great mileage from his own signature forehand but was also mixing in lobs and drops. He broke first, held for 3-1, and broke again—still with just two errors in the match.
Ruud was even pulling off touch volley winners, and cruised to a hold, 5-1. Now Berrettini was trying to up the pace with serve-and-volley play, only to get passed with spin and angle. However, two uncharacteristic errors from Ruud on break points and it was 5-2.
And that heralded a gradual switch in momentum, as Ruud’s serve tensed up, and he offered up break chances to the Italian. Sure enough, Berrettini took advantage at the fourth opportunity, and then aced for a love hold, 5-4.
Ruud regrouped and held for the set, 6-4, but after a brief comfort break by the Italian, Berrettini looked stronger, more confident, and buoyed up by the second set and by the bulk of the support under the Arthur Ashe roof.
He broke early, and survived a 10-minute hold and four break points for 3-0. Ruud stemmed the flow, saving break point to hold, but the impetus was with Berrettini.
However, with the Italian serving for the set, Ruud reverted to his tactics of the first set, blocking the first serve, and angling a long, dipping return on the second. After nine minutes, and saving two set points, he got the reward, a break back, and held to level, 5-5. Against the odds, it would go to a tie-break.
There, Ruud got the first point against serve, and they changed ends at 4-2. Berrettini seemed unable to counter the Norwegian’s renewed focus and attack, trailed 6-2, and despite some tense serves, Ruud swept to set and match, 7-6(4), after well over two and a half hours.
Ruud was asked about the prospect of competing for the No1 ranking, and admitted he had no idea until this week that it was even an option. He added, wisely:
“I don’t want to think too much about it. It is something all young players think about. I had no idea I could be number one when I started this tournament. It’s a bit of extra motivation to dig in and keep fighting. If I am very lucky, I can leave New York as world No1.”
Ruud will next play Kyrgios or former world No8 and Paris Masters champion, Karen Khachanov. Kyrgios, a prodigious talent who this season had channelled his mind and tennis like never before, had notched up the most tour wins, 26, since the start of the grass court season.
He got to the quarters via a stunning win over No1 Medvedev, and would take on Khachanov in the knowledge that he had beaten the Russian in a four-and-a-half-hour marathon in the 2020 Australian Open. But the outcome this time would not be decided for many hours: They would not even start their quarter-final for another eight hours.