Eighth seed Casper Ruud rallied from a set down to beat an error-prone Marin Cilic 3-6 6-4 6-2 6-2 on Friday to become the first Norwegian to reach a Grand Slam singles final and stage a French Open title clash against 13-time champion Rafa Nadal.
With his victory against the Croatian on the Philippe Chatrier court, Ruud will rise to at least sixth in the world in career when the list is updated at the end of the Grand Slam on clay at Roland Garros.
“It was a great game from my side. I didn’t start well but from that break (second set) I played some of my best tennis this year,” Ruud said in his interview on the ground.
“Marin is usually the one who plays really fast and plays really hard with the balls. I thought I needed to step up a bit and counter attack and aim for faster shots. That helped.”
Ruud entered the competition with a 2-0 lead over former world number three Cilic and a prolific record on clay. Prior to Friday’s game, the Norwegian, since 2020, had won 65 league-leading games and seven titles on the surface.
But it was the Croatian, 10 years older than his 23-year-old opponent, who got the blood flowing first, smashing Ruud twice in the opening set to take the lead.
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Big hitter Cilic, seeded 20th, dotted the field with winners with his powerful forehand and saved all three breakpoints he faced on his own delivery.
But Ruud quickly showed why he’s so popular on clay when he soaked up Cilic’s power with his solid defense in the third game of the second set, forcing his opponent into a string of unforced errors to pull them apart.
With Ruud serving for the set, Cilic had several chances to level the contest, but the Norwegian fought back from 0-40 down to clinch the stanza with a searing backhand down the line.
Cilic’s frustration grew as the lanky Croatian completely lost control of his groundstrokes and his unforced errors skyrocketed as Ruud took a 4-0 lead in the third set.
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The match was halted for over 15 minutes in the third set with Ruud serving at 4-1 when a protester jumped onto the court and tied herself to the net.
Ruud lost the next two points on the restart but recovered to save two break points to hold a 5-1 lead before serving for the set at his next opportunity.
Another double break early in the fourth was enough for Ruud and he sealed the game in less than three hours with his 16th ace of the game. Cilic’s dismal evening ended with 56 unforced errors – against just 21 from his opponent.
Ruud has broken Cilic’s serve a total of five times and on Sunday he will face Nadal, who will be aiming for a record 22nd major title. Nadal progressed after opponent Alexander Zverev pulled out with an ankle injury mid-game.
“He’s the last Big Three player…that I’ve ever played against,” Ruud said. “I guess the timing is perfect and it was worth the wait to finally play him in a Grand Slam final.
“It will be a special moment for me, hopefully a bit for him too. He’s played so many finals but at least he’s playing a student from his academy this time. It should be fun.”
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