It's enough to recap the last rally of the first round to understand what kind of game it was: 55 strokes, a mixture of technical brilliance, tactical finesse and a duel of nerves; you could guess what Karen Khachanov (Russia) and Casper Ruud (Norway) were calculating before each and every shot: another cross backhand, maybe with more angle? Maybe go around the backhand and hit with the forehand, but where - and what if the guy over there suspects it and plays the forehand? A little more pressure, maybe a little more precise in the corners?
It was mental exercise combined with maximum physical exertion (both ran more than 150 meters in this rally) and the task of maneuvering this yellow felt ball, which comes over the net at around 160 km/h, to the other side at least as quickly and with as much precision as possible . In addition, it was not an unimportant point in this men's semifinals at the US Open.
Ruud led 6:5 in the tie-break of this round, which went like the rally: Ruud wanted a break, Khachanov got one back; then Khachanov took the serve from the opponent and lost his right after. At 5:4 Khachanov had a set ball, which Ruud fended off with a great opening and broke through the service game with two nervous rallies (eleven and 13 strokes). There were service duels up to the tie-break, and then that mad rally that Ruud finished with a thundering backhand down the line. Suddenly it was over and that was symbolic for this game.
"This year I understood what it really means to play best-of-5 games," says Ruud, who only lost to Rafael Nadal in the final in Paris
The amazing thing was, because such a rally, such a first set, makes one suspect that an epic match could follow: That's it, even if Khachanov won the third set 7:5 - Ruud secured the other two 6: 2, 6:2; and that's the summary of how Ruud played his way through this tournament to the finals over the past two weeks.
He had to go into overtime at least once in each of his games - ten times it was 5:5, seven of which were tie-breaks. He won five times and gave up the set five times - against Tommy Paul (USA) in the third round, for example, after four sets it was 7: 6, 6: 7, 7: 6, 5: 7. But now what makes Ruud so strong and puts him ahead of the US Open up to fourth place in the world rankings: He clearly won the remaining 13 rounds, the fifth against Paul: 6:0.
So far there hasn't been a single round in the entire tournament where you could have said: Okay, Ruud lost that clearly and deservedly. "This year at the French Open I understood what it really means to play best-of-5 games," says Ruud, who only lost to Rafael Nadal in the final in Paris - but clearly, 3: 6, 3:6, 0:6: "You have to realize that a sentence can be missing, even if it's close, but that there is still enough time to correct it afterwards. You should use your energy on that and not think about it what has been or could have been."
That means at this US Open: Corentin Moutet (France) may take a sentence in the tie-break; but what does that mean if you win the remaining 6:1, 6:2 and 6:2 yourself? Or Tim van Rijthoven wins the first set in the second round, also in a tie-break, but then loses 4:6, 4:6, 4:6? The winner was in each case, deserved and ultimately without danger: Casper Ruud.
The Norwegian has developed an incredible composure: with scores, with the surface in New York, which is really not his favorite (he prefers clay); with the balls at the US Open, about which his father Christian, a former tennis pro himself, says: "They bounce flatter and faster in the heat, which makes it difficult to hit them in time, even if you hardly see it on TV. On the other hand, the heat makes the courts a bit slower, which suits Casper a little."
That's how they see it in the Ruud house. And with this relaxed attitude Casper also goes into the final on Sunday: always stay cool, deal with everything - with the opponent Carlos Alcaraz, who won the second, grandiose semi-final against the American Frances Tiafoe in the usual dramatic way (6: 7, 6: 3 , 6:1, 6:7, 6:3); and with the fact that it will also be about who wakes up as number one in the world the next day.