Casper Ruud knew he had his work cut out for him this season. After making his Nitto ATP Finals debut to cap a breakout 2021 campaign, he was prepared for an ever bigger challenge as he fought to solidify his place among the game’s elite.

The Norwegian delivered in a big way, surpassing even his own expectations as he comfortable booked a return trip to Turin. After finishing last season at No. 8 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, he rose as high as World No. 2 this year after winning three titles and reaching the final at Miami, Roland Garros and the US Open.

“People say sometimes that it can be tougher to stay in the Top 10 or Top 5 than to reach it [the first time] because now you have all these other players sort of chasing you and coming from behind and wanting to kick you out and replace you,” Ruud said on media day in Turin, speaking with ATP Media. “It’s a challenge, but I was able to do well enough to be here again this year and I’m very happy about that.”

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While Rune enjoyed strong support from his player box last year in Italy — “I think every seat in the box was taken by family and my team,” he said — his entourage will include two new guests this year: his grandmothers.

“They don’t come to too much,” Ruud said of the VIPs. “Sometimes they are a little bit frustrated with me that I don’t invite them too often. They are great, but as all grandmothers, they can maybe be a bit too much at times,” he added with a smile. “But of course I love them and it’s nice for them to be here for the first time.”

With his caring family in tow, the 2021 Turin semi-finalist has enjoyed being back in familiar surroundings at the Pala Alpitour, where each player has the luxury of his own locker room with their picture on the door and adorning the walls inside. Unlike last year, Ruud sealed his qualification for Turin with time to spare thanks to his stellar season.

“It’s much more comfortable knowing that you’re qualified for some time. Last year it was so stressful,” he said, reflecting on the down-to-the-wire race between himself, Hubert Hurkacz, Jannik Sinner and Cameron Norrie. In the end, all four competed in Turin — Ruud and Hurkacz as direct qualifiers, Sinner and Norrie as alternates. But the experience left Ruud hungry to sew up his place early this year, and the Norwegian succeeded in that quest, clinching qualification in late September with a win in Seoul.

“You think about it when you start the year,” he said of the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin. “The first match of the year, you’re thinking, ‘I want to have a good year’, because you know that in November there will be the Nitto ATP Finals, and you hope you can reach it. To be able to do it again this year, for a second time, is very special.

“I knew that this year was going to be an important and challenging one for me because the first time you reach the Top 10, or the fist year you reach this tournament, you know that the next year you will have to defend everything that you have done.”

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After a gruelling season in which he played 22 tournaments and recorded 48 wins, will Ruud have enough left in the tank to make a deep run in Turin?

“Let’s see. I do hope so,” said the 23-year-old. “It’s going to be a tough one. You’re sort of trying to trick yourself that it’s not the last one.

“This is such a great place, great city to play in. The Italian fans are so passionate that you will feel the energy from the moment you step on court, which hopefully can lift you a little bit, no mater who you are or who you are playing… They really know what they’re doing here in Italy when it comes to the sport of tennis and that’s a great feeling for us.”

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