2021 Scorecard: Casper Ruud
Casper Rising: Ruud's hard court serve, return strategy, backhand
Casper Ruud has had the best season of his young career in 2021, finishing the season ranked No.8, qualifying for the ATP Finals, and winning 5 titles. Despite being widely labelled as ‘just’ a clay courter for most of the past few years, the young Norwegian has posted some impressive hard court results recently, including a first ATP hard court title in San Diego (beating Murray, Sonego, Dimitrov, Norrie), and a run to the Semi’s of the ATP Finals. The start of his season was far from ideal, having to retire from the Australian Open with a stomach injury, but from Monte Carlo onwards Ruud consistently impressed.
Clay is always going to be Ruud’s best surface and Casper looked increasingly impressive on the red stuff this year (4 titles). But 2020 into 2021 has seen Ruud plug some holes in his all-court game that bear quite a lot of responsibility for him finishing in the top 10 this year. In 2019 I wrote, fairly obviously, that Ruud’s serve/return effectiveness and court positioning would need to improve and/or be tweaked on the hard courts for him to rise up to the top of the rankings. Ruud’s game is built on top of one of the fiercest, spinniest forehands in the game, but that forehand could still be rushed and regularly needed plenty of serve/return assistance in order to set up many of his preferred rally patterns. Since his first year or so on the tour, Ruud also had a tendency to run around, or back off, his backhand which regularly opened up court space for his opponents to hit into. All of the above has improved in 2020/2021.
Before 2021 Ruud had 16 wins and 27 losses on hard courts at tour level. In 2021 alone he finished with 26 wins to 10 losses on hard courts. It’s also worth noting that Ruud lost easily to Kecmanovic and De Minaur, both in straight sets, on indoor hard court at the NextGen Finals in Milan at the end of 2019. Now the Norwegian is the highest ranked of the entire young field that played that tournament (only Sinner is in the same ball park ranking wise).
Whichever way you want to spin it, Ruud’s progression has been damn fast.
Zoomed out view
— Ruud’s raw serving performance on hard courts 2019-2021:
The 2020 sample size is small because of the pandemic, and I’ve taken out four Davis Cup matches from 2021 because the ludicrously high opponent rankings skews the data (hello No.567 Sanjar Fayziev). But there’s a pretty clear uptick in Ruud’s overall serve performance despite playing tougher opponents from 2019 - 2021.
— Ruud’s raw return performance on hard courts 2019-2021:
Similar to the serve performance above, the data is quite noisy but still a clear enough uptick in results against tougher and tougher opposition. The 1st serve return performance bump is pretty significant.
— Under pressure raw performance on hard courts 2019-2021
Zoomed in view
After watching a lot of Ruud in 2021, there are a couple of things that stand out.