Ruud eager to secure a place among world's best

18-year-old Casper Ruud, the youngest player in the main draw of the upcoming Chennai Open, is "hungry" to make the most of his opportunity to compete with the best.

Casper Ruud sweats it out during a practice session at SDAT Tennis Stadium in Chennai on Thursday.   -  Anjana Senthil

Casper Ruud, an 18-year-old player from Norway, was named alongside local talent Ramkumar Ramanathan and India No. 1 Saketh Myneni as a wild card entrant for the main draw of Chennai Open.

It was surprising that a relatively obscure player from a Scandinavian country was preferred over 2015 finalist Aljaz Bedene for the main draw. Not many had heard of Casper Ruud before, but a quick profile search on the internet was enough to under why the organisers were so excited about bringing in the teen, who is the youngest player of this year’s tournament.

They say winning is an addiction and Ruud, who turned 18 only a few days back, only knows it too well. After dabbling in multiple sports, the Oslo native decided to pursue tennis as a career after tasting stupendous success in the National U-12 championship in Norway. “When I was around 11, I won the national title in all the three classes - singles, doubles and mixed doubles. That was a big moment for me. Ever since that I have always wanted to go for more. I started playing international tournaments in Europe and kept wanting more and more,” he said.

The Norwegian No. 1 had the started the year as Junior World No. 1, a first for his country. “Becoming the first ITF World Junior No. 1 from Norway was a huge moment of achievement for me. It was a lot of fun becoming the World No. 1. In the beginning, the goal was to be in top 10; I just did better and better and eventually became No. 1. In this world, being a good junior helps a lot and you see a lot of good things happening because of that achievement,” Ruud, who is supported by IMG, said.

The Rafael Nadal fan has also been making rapid strides in the seniors circuit. In February, he played his first Futures final, a final he ended up winning. “In the beginning, I lost in three sets twice to a guy in the first round. The victors went on to make the final and that’s when I realised that I, even though I was young and inexperienced, I had it in me to do well in these kinds of tournaments,” he said.

Ruud has since played four more finals, winning again in Kaarina, Finland, in August. An ATP Challenger Tour title on debut in Sevilla, Spain, gave clear indications of his inherent talent.

It is his first trip to Chennai and he is keen to lap up all the opportunities he could get of playing top 100 players. “There have been Wawrinka and Cilic before and Cilic is playing this year too. For ATP World Tour events where really good players participate, you have to be prepared in a different way compared to Futures or any lower-level tournaments,” Ruud, whose father Christian had achieved a career high No. 39 during his playing day, said.

'Ready'

Ruud is not intimidated by the prospect of being the youngest player in the main draw of Chennai Open. “I am the youngest player in the tournament but I think it doesn’t really bother me and I don’t feel more pressure. I try to be as ready as any other guy. I want to be up there in the top 100, top 50 and I have to get through these matches and should start winning as many matches at this level as I can.

“Even though I am young, hungry and looking to get up there and competing with good players , I don’t want to add any pressure to myself for being young,” he said. Ruud confessed to watching a lot of Youtube videos of the ‘Big Four’ and picking as many techniques as possible.

“I want to try my best and reach as far as I can. Getting an opportunity to play here and become a better player is enough for me and I will try my best. I am not saying that my chances are high but I will do my best,” he said.