23-year-old Casper Ruud, for some, has lived up to his name ahead of Wimbledon. The number three seed, who finished as the runner-up to Rafa Nadal at the French Open, has failed to produce on grass in his short career so far.
“I think grass is for golf players. My preparation for Wimbledon is pretty much just playing golf before the tournament because I feel more comfortable on the golf courts than the tennis courts on grass for now, but let’s see if it can change.”
This comment was clearly said in jest, but for many, it’s a shock that he has broken into the top five of the men’s rankings for the first time in his career. After Alexander Zverev’s Wimbledon withdrawal through injury, and Daniil Medvedev banned from this year’s event, it means Ruud remarkably heads into Wimbledon as the third seed.
He’s never won a game at Wimbledon in his career. Not one. In 2018, he lost in the very first round of qualifying. In 2019, in the main draw for the first time, he lost in round one to John Isner. This time last year, he went out at the same stage, this time to Australian Jordan Thompson, who is currently ranked 70th in the world.
It’s not a question as to whether Rudd is a good tennis player. The Norwegian has shown on clay in particular that he is one of the finest players in the world. At Roland Garros this year he won four matches in five sets on his way to the final, and beat Marin Cilic, Andrey Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz along the way.
They are elite level players on the circuit, but when it comes to grass, Ruud has barely beaten anybody of note. At Queen’s this week, he was number one seed, and lost in the first round in straight sets to Great Britain’s Ryan Peniston. To put that defeat in context, Peniston had never even played in an ATP main draw match before and is ranked 180th in the world.
The world number five was coming off the back of a draining campaign, but still, a man of his ability should be sweeping aside Peniston relatively comfortably. But do you need to play well on grass to be a top tennis player? The surface only makes up a quarter of the major Grand Slams and although Wimbledon is arguable the most prestigious, some just struggle to get to grips with the changeable playing surface.
Number four seed Stefanos Tsitsipas is a great example of this and somebody that perhaps Ruud could emulate. He’s the same age but has slightly more experience, having also reached the final of the French, and the semi-finals of the Australian Open on three separate occasions.
The Greek star has played at SW19 four times, and been knocked out in round one on three of those occasions. Back in 2018 he reached round four, but his win percentage at Wimbledon is just 43%, far lower that any other major and way behind the 77% he posts in Melbourne.
Yet, he’s consistently in the top ten and is close to winning his first major. Does the fact that he isn’t a grass-specialist hold him back? Potentially, but there have been only a few tennis greats that have been able to dominate across grass, clay and on hard courts.
Seeds are basically just the same as the world rankings now, but surely there must be some context or past performance weighting to these figures. Ruud may be number three seed, but he is a rank outsider in terms of winning this tournament. Betfred have him priced at 80/1, which is crazy for a third seed, but definitely right when it comes to his chances.
He’s not got a hope of winning this tournament - but perhaps he never needs to.
Men's top eight seeds for Wimbledon
1 Novak Djokovic
2 Rafa Nadal
3 Casper Ruud
4 Stefanos Tsitsipas
5 Carlos Alcaraz
6 Felix Auger Aliassime
7 Hubert Hurkacz
8 Matteo Berrettini
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