Casper Ruud’s 2022 Australian Open ended before it began. During practice ahead of the season’s first major, the Norwegian hurt his ankle, forcing him to withdraw from the tournament.

As the world’s best players kicked into high gear at Melbourne Park, Ruud sat on a plane home doing exercises to take care of his ankle.

“My ankle was still a little swollen and stiff, so I had to do all these exercises while on the plane to keep the blood flowing and keep it moving a little bit so that it wouldn’t swell up completely,” Ruud told ATPTour.com. “But it was fine. It’s always sort of nice to come home no matter how you do, but it was tough to accept that I couldn’t even play a point and then watched the whole tournament from home for two weeks in a row.”

Ruud remembers the flight being ‘a little boring’. Instead of preparing for a match, he was doing exercises with a rubber band.

“For sure it’s frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world,” Ruud said. “That’s the good thing with tennis, that there’s a new chance coming right around the corner. Whether it’s an ATP tournament or a Grand Slam, there’s always something going on.”

Some players would view the situation as a glass half empty. It was a depleting moment for a player who was then at a career-high No. 8 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. But Ruud used the disappointment to see his glass half full.

“Injuries can be really tough for you, but also motivating,” Ruud said. “You want to come back and get your revenge.”

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Ruud returned to action in the second week of February, when he competed in Buenos Aires. The Norwegian dropped just one set en route to the clay-court title. But it was not all good news.

“In the final of Buenos Aires I had a small strain in my oblique muscle so I had to pull out of Rio and go back [home] again,” Ruud said. “So it was a little bit of a troubling start for me in the beginning of the year. But I felt I had done well with the chances I got.”

Many players would have taken months to find their footing after such a difficult start to the year. But Ruud went on to enjoy the best season of his career, reaching his first two major finals at Roland Garros and the US Open. At Flushing Meadows, Ruud was one victory from becoming the No. 1 player in the world.

“I’ve had a lot of great moments after Australia last year that sort of made up for a tough period, but there and then it was tough. You hope to have a good start and then you have to go back home and not even play a point, not even getting any points on your ranking and all these things,” Ruud said. “It was tough, but in the end I think I’m quite good at looking ahead in the future and already going back [home], I was motivated to get back to practice — whenever that time was going to come — and play tournaments again.”

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The 24-year-old is known as a hard worker as well as a gentleman on and off the court. In 2022, he received the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award. But that does not mean he does not have a competitive fire burning inside, according to his father and coach, Christian Ruud.

“Since he was young he always wanted to play with the ball and compete. In soccer, ice hockey, tennis, he wanted to win. You can see every practice, every tournament he played in tennis, in football, he wanted to win,” Christian said. “I think probably 80 per cent of the kids start to cry when they don’t win, so he was first in that category also.

“But when I really started to believe in him was when he played the European Championships Under 14 and he was not considered one of the favourites. He was not even seeded I don’t think and he went to the final, beating the taller guys. He was not really tall and big at that age. Then I figured out, ‘Okay, this guy has something that we can try to work on’.”

Now Ruud is an Australian Open title — and potentially a final, depending on Stefanos Tsitsipas’ results — from becoming the No. 1 player in the world. He will begin his Melbourne run Tuesday against Czech Tomas Machac.

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Ruud’s latest flight to Australia was more pleasant than his trip home a year ago. A self-proclaimed “big sci-fi movie guy”, he watched Black Adam, starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

One year ago, Ruud’s Australian Open never began. Now the Norwegian will be focussed on making a splash Down Under. Fresh off a run to the championship match at the Nitto ATP Finals, Ruud is hungry to continue improving and make his mark.

“That’s the great thing about tennis, it’s not like a video game where you will run the game at some point. It’s a sport that you can only master when you are [at] your own limit,” Ruud said. “Everyone knows that let’s say if you run tennis you will hit every winner possible and that’s not possible in the end. You’re going to have to hit an ace every time you serve, hit a return winner every time you return. That’s never going to happen.

“You can only get as close as possible to this, where that’s only your own task to do so. By knowing that, I know that I can always improve my backhand, I can improve my forehand even though my forehand is maybe my biggest weapon, I still have to improve it. Movement on court, mentality, there’s so much to tennis that you can always improve and have to work on.”

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