Casper Ruud returns to lead the world-class field on clay courts

Three years ago on Saturday, with his father Christian on the other side of the net, Casper Ruud attacked for the first time with tennis balls at the River Oaks Country Club, a place his father liked to mention after winning the River Oaks Invitational on the same court in 1996. . US Men’s Clay Championship Fayez Sarofim & Co. will start on Monday, and young Ruud, who admitted frustration with his progress so far as a promising professional on the ATP tour, hoped that good family karma could still be found at the beautiful clubhouse. reasons.

Ruud, then 20, said his realistic goal in the 2019 season was to reach the top 50, adding: “If you told me I would be in the top 100 to 20 at age 16, I would take it every day. of the week. I’m very happy that I broke through, but there are others I grew up with who are doing even better. “

Among other things, the name of Alexander Zverev fell. The 21-year-old German was a world number three at the time.

“It’s good inspiration and motivation for me,” Ruud said. “If they can do it, why not me?”

As it turned out, he could. The non-seeded Norwegian fought his way to the final, where he lost to another starting player, Christian Garin. Now, 1,084 days later – so much has passed since professional men last played in Houston thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic – Ruud will return as seed no. 1. The five-time winner of the tournament in 2021 can also return as the new Miami Open champion. After beating Zvereva, who is currently fourth, in the quarterfinals there, he is playing for his first Master Series 1000 title on Sunday.

Ruud, who defeated Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina in the semi-finals in Miami, was on Houston’s original roster but resigned. Withdrawals secured Steve Johnson, the Houston back-to-back champion in 2017-18, as well as Sam Querrey, who lost to Garin in the semifinals of 2019 and, after reaching the final twice, a place in the main draw. As Bob and Mike Bryan retire, Johnson and Querry figure as entrenched doubles favorites.

Obviously, Ruud will not be called to stand trial on Monday. When he said goodbye in the first round, it could be on Thursday, after a tennis starving local fans looked at him against the winner of the Querry-Daniel Elahi Galan. All four first seeds receive a farewell.

If Ruud defeats Carlos Alcaraz in Florida, he will move to 7th place in the rankings, giving Houston a historic championship. Never in the 19 previous Clay Court Championship tournaments, which were played at the Westside Tennis Club, which hosted in 2001-07, nor in River Oaks, have the two incumbent champions of the BNP Paribas tournament in Indian Wells and Miami played here. .

In a stunning upset in the California desert a week ago, 24-year-old American Taylor Fritz wrestled a seriously ripped ankle to beat Rafael Nadal in three sets for his first Master Series 1000 title. .

Fritz, 24, is in second place based on his current 13th ranking, which is 52 places higher than where he was when he arrived in Houston in 2019. Like Ruud, his potential exceeded his results on the court. point, but as Ruud still ground. Another American in similar shoes, the third-seeded Reilly Opelka, improved his character by winning the inaugural ATP tournament in the hard court in Dallas in February, when he defeated compatriot Jenson Brooksby in the final.

At the age of 21, however, Brooksby’s eighth is the youngest player in the main move and, given his age, is probably the American player with the biggest lead. He is currently in 38th place and debuts in River Oaks.

Another championship: All eight players in River Oaks are in the top 40, a barely common phenomenon in the 250-level tournament, which is the lowest in the ATP World Tour hierarchy. And six of them are Americans, including 2013 champion John Isner (fourth), Frances Tiafoe (sixth) and Tommy Paul (seventh). Defending champion Garin is seeded fifth.

Jack Sock, who won the 2015 title at Querry’s expense in 2015, received a wild card into the field, as did other American JJ Wolf and Australian Nick Kyrgios, a former quarterfinalist at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

“We couldn’t be more excited about coming back with such an excellent course,” said tournament director Bronwyn Greer.

Although tickets to main draw matches are practically sold out, qualifying matches are free and open to the public. It is played on Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 and four players will advance to the first round.

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