“I was doing two weeks hard, two weeks clay, just to get both surfaces in the system,” Ruud told ATPTour.com. “I’ve been doing a lot of different ways of practising, but mainly just trying to keep the intensity up.”
The 21-year-old’s game is no secret. He tries to wear down opponents from the back of the court, relying on his big forehand to control points. Ripping the cover off the ball from deep in the court is his forté. But Ruud has stepped out of that comfort zone, working on playing from inside the baseline to improve his hard-court game.
“Certain practices have been tougher than others, but I think I’m improving and that’s the most important thing,” Ruud said. “It’s been a good time to try to develop my game.”
According to Ruud, it’s not as simple as changing his tactics. Being more aggressive on hard courts requires fine-tuning different skills, too.
“You have to be even faster with the legs and quicker with the steps, reacting quicker than maybe when you’re standing two, three, four metres behind the baseline,” Ruud said. “It’s definitely been a challenge for me. In some practices I’ve felt like I’ve made more mistakes than I usually do because stepping more into the court is higher risk than staying back and playing with more topspin.
“It’s more comfortable being aggressive than being on the defence and running around all the time,. You have to try to be as aggressive as you can but for some people it comes more naturally than others.”
Ruud is the No. 36 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings and there are only three younger players ranked above him: No. 16 Denis Shapovalov, No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime and No. 26 Alex de Minaur. But he has gotten that far while winning only 38 per cent (14-23) of his tour-level hard-court matches.
“I think if you’re a good clay-court player you’re a good tennis player overall,” Ruud said. “Maybe you’re struggling a little bit on hard if you’re standing too far back and these things. But clay-court players tend to be more solid than aggressive hard-court players, who maybe make more mistakes, but also hit more winners.
“Having that basic style of play can bring you far also on hard court. Maybe not win the biggest tournaments, but you see many clay-court specialists can also get good results on hard courts.”
Ruud won his lone ATP Tour title earlier this year on Buenos Aires’ clay, and he has also reached tour-level finals on clay at 2019 Houston and 2020 Santiago. But he showed his abilities on hard courts at this year’s inaugural ATP Cup, defeating Top 20 stars John Isner and Fabio Fognini.
“You see other young guys are playing extremely aggressive like Shapovalov, Felix, who are playing very aggressively. De Minaur is an aggressive player and he’s extremely fast. Fritz is a big hitter, Rublev is a big hitter,” Ruud said. “Many of the players are playing pretty aggressive and standing high up in the court. I’d like to at least know the feeling of that game as well so I can also try to improve.”
The Norwegian begins his return to tennis at the Western & Southern Open against ninth seed Diego Schwartzman.