Casper Ruud’s best ATP Masters 1000 event has been the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. The Norwegian’s confidence at the Foro Italico proved helpful on Sunday when he overcame Alexander Bublik in a third-round thriller.
The magnetic Kazakhstani Bublik rallied the crowd to his side with his inimitable brand of shotmaking and shot selection. But Ruud was rock solid when it mattered most to triumph 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(0) for a place in the fourth round at an event where the 24-year-old has made the semi-finals in his past two appearances.
“It’s been a very good tournament for me in my career. I’ve reached the semis here twice and twice I lost to Novak in the semi-finals, so it sort of shows that I’ve been beating a lot of good players up until facing one of the best ever,” Ruud said in his on-court interview. “I have a lot of good memories from here and the Italian fans are incredible, even though today they were maybe cheering even more for Bublik. It’s an incredible experience playing out here on this court, Pietrangeli.
“It’s a very special court and you can see it’s full almost every single match no matter who plays, so it was really fun and it gives me good vibes being here in Rome.”
As always Bublik used every shot up his sleeve to try to put Ruud into discomfort. After going down an immediate mini-break in the final-set tie-break, the Kazakhstani stood almost up to the service line to return his opponent’s serve.
But in the most critical moment, Ruud locked down from the baseline and allowed Bublik to misfire.
“In the tie-break I just played luckily very good, didn’t do any mistakes and it was very nice to have a 6/0 lead there at the end,” Ruud said.
It was an entertaining match and the pair shared a lengthy, friendly exchange at the net. The crowd chanted Bublik’s name as he walked off the court.
“I take every point serious no matter what the score is. Then you play Sascha, who has unbelievable talent and I’m up 5-0 after 17 minutes on court where he just sort of does mistakes and I’m just there putting the ball in,” Ruud said. “At least he still has fun with it because at 0-5 he starts hitting underarm serves and gets the crowd involved even though he’s down. From then on he’s serving great.
“He can do everything from a 40 km/h drop shot underarm serve to 220 out wide, a bomb. So it’s very difficult to know what’s coming. And as long as the score is kind of close, you feel like he’s fighting and giving it all.”
In the last match of the evening, home favourite Jannik Sinner clawed past lucky loser Alexander Shevchenko 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2.
Shevchenko positioned himself well in the second set by playing aggressive tennis to push back the powerful Italian. The No. 93 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings let slip an opportunity to serve out the set. But despite his disappointment, Shevchenko recovered well in the tie-break to force a decider.
Sinner did not panic, earning an early break in the third set to halt his opponent’s momentum and continue his pursuit of a maiden Masters 1000 title.
“I think I was quite in the zone, trying to play every point in the maximum,” Sinner said in his on-court interview. “I missed a couple of points, especially in the second set and in the tie-break, but you have to cut this part away and then try to be ready for the third set, which I’ve done. I reacted very well.
“Trying to take all the positives. Obviously I won the match so I’m very happy and happy that I can play one more match here in Rome.”
The eighth seed will next play 24th seed Francisco Cerundolo.