Ruud wins Challenger debut

17-year-old tennis player Casper Ruud takes Copa Sevilla title in his first-ever Challenger tournament and jumps to 274 in the world

This April Ruud first made the top 500 adult tennis players, having already dominated the youth circuit. Photo by Helge Mikalsen, VG

This April Ruud first made the top 500 adult tennis players, having already dominated the youth circuit. Photo by Helge Mikalsen, VG

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

While most of the world’s top-ranked teenage tennis players were battling in the US Open Junior Championship early this September, 17-year-old Norwegian Casper Ruud was aiming a few levels higher: his debut ATP Challenger competition.

Ruud started the season ranked as the number 1 junior in the world—becoming the first Norwegian to earn that title—and has been competing at the ATP Futures level where he has taken two wins and been the runner-up three times.

The next step up from the Futures circuit is the Challenger level, where successful players earn ranking points with the hopes of qualifying for the ATP World Tour, the top level of senior tennis competition.

Ruud started the season outside of the Top 1,000 in the ATP Rankings, ranked 1,139 in the world overall, with the goal of making it to the Top 500. Now the Norwegian can certainly say that he crushed his aspirations for the season.

After qualifying for the main draw of the Copa Sevilla tournament—held September 5-10 in Seville, Spain—Ruud continued on to win seven matches over the course of eight days. In the second round, he earned his first Top 150 win over Slovakian Andrej Martin 6-3, 6-3. In the quarterfinals, he faced Íñigo Cervantes of Spain, who was ranked number 75 at the time and was Ruud’s first opponent in the Top 100; after losing the first set 3-6, the Norwegian took the next two sets 6-1 and 6-4. Ruud also lost his first set in the semifinals to Pedro Cachín of Argentina but won the next 6-3 and 6-2 to advance to the finals.

Casper Ruud at the 2015 US Junior Open. Photo by robbiesaurus / Wikimedia

Casper Ruud at the 2015 US Junior Open. Photo by robbiesaurus / Wikimedia

“This is a really good tournament,” said Ruud to “I didn’t know what to expect because it was my first Challenger, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. There have been people coming out to support us and watch the matches, so it’s been really nice. It’s been a great experience to play some Challengers instead of Futures.”

In his final match of his Challenger debut, Ruud faced 23-year-old Japanese Taro Daniel, ranked 101, who had previously won four Challenger titles. The pressure didn’t seem to faze the Norwegian much, however, and he beat Daniel 6-3, 6-4 to take the victory and become the fourth youngest to ever win a debut Challenger tournament.

“There were a couple of tough rallies in the beginning and I felt pressure. But I got a break in the first and then I kind of felt in control after that. I played very well today with my forehand and backhand, and serve when I had to,” said Ruud in an interview with following his victory. “I struggled a little bit toward the end, you know, got a little nervous, but luckily I got it, and it was great just to move your hands up in the air knowing that you won the whole title.”

Following the competition, Ruud jumped in the ATP rankings from 450 to an impressive 274.

“This is the best he has done. He has been ranked as number 1 in the world as a junior, but this is senior tennis. He has beat three players in a row that are among the 101 best in the world,” said his father, Christian Ruud, who won 12 Challenger titles throughout his own career in the 1990s and ranked as high as number 39 at his best.

Casper Ruud is now only the third Norwegian to get a victory in ATP Challenger Tour history, after his father and Jan Frode Andersen, and is already the top-ranked tennis player in the country at 17.

“Tennis isn’t that big in Norway, but I hope that it’ll blow up a little bit more there if I do well,” commented Ruud. “There are some enthusiastic fans there and they like to follow me around and send me messages, which are nice to receive. Hopefully I can try to do the same as my dad and make tennis a little more popular in Norway.”

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.