Growing up, Casper Ruud said ‘no’ to temptation and ‘yes’ to national history.
The 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier earlier this year won the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires to become the first Norwegian to earn an ATP Tour title. He also ascended to No. 34 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in February, the highest standing of anyone in his country’s history. But Ruud’s journey has not come without sacrifices.
“When you turn 15, 16, your friends maybe start to party a little bit and you’re maybe tempted to try to go once or twice, but I never did it. I never touched alcohol. Those are choices normal people may think are a bit tough or hard to say no to going out or being with friends,” Ruud told ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot. “Every weekend in Norway, it’s usual to go to your cabin or summer house or whatever the season is, but every weekend me and my father went out to the courts and played at least six, seven hours. I think those were the kind of choices that made me a step ahead of my competitors, in Norway at least, for some years.”
It helped that Ruud had a role model to look up to in his father, Christian Ruud, who reached the second-highest FedEx ATP Ranking of any Norwegian in history: World No. 39.
“He was the guy who put Norway on the tennis map a little bit… we had a small tennis court in our garden, so he took me there to play ever since I could walk,” Ruud recalled. “I was really young and I did a bunch of other sports as well, but eventually tennis was the one I enjoyed the most. When I was 12, I put all the other sports aside and focussed only on my tennis.”
Although the elder Ruud enjoyed success on the ATP Tour, he knew that didn’t guarantee the same for his son, and he made sure Casper maintained his focus.
“My father is a very nice and funny guy, but also strict whenever we’re on court, and strict with me always trying to do the right choices and being serious, even from a young age,” Ruud said. “I think it’s paying off a little bit now at least. I’ve taken a lot of choices and decisions that weren’t always as easy, but I had to do it because of my career.
“It was tough sometimes to get up on Saturday and Sunday and train for three, four hours… my father also guided me and advised me to do it, I believed in him, and it’s been paying off, and of course I’m very grateful now.”
Ruud’s home base since September 2018 has been the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, so it’s fitting that the 21-year-old looks up to the Spaniard and how he carries himself on court.
“I think that I would be happy if people called me humble, a good fighter,” Ruud said. “I look up to Rafa a lot and people know him as very humble and a good fighter. Of course I’m not trying to be just like him, but I’m looking at the stuff that I like with Rafa, I’m looking at the stuff that I like with Federer or Djokovic and of course I’m trying to bring that into my own game.”
Ruud cracked the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time last March, and now he has put himself in strong position inside the Top 50. But he is focussed on continuing to improve, and not looking back.
“It’s the tough thing about tennis: You can be really happy one day, but then the day after is a new match, a new opportunity. You can either lose or win. If you lose, you’ll be disappointed. If you win, you’ll be even more happy,” Ruud said. “[There’s] not too much time to celebrate or take off, either.”