Tennis: World No2 Casper Ruud confirmed for Auckland’s ASB Classic

Casper Ruud of Norway walks onto the court prior to his Men’s Singles Final match against Carlos Alcaraz of Spain on Day Fourteen of the 2022 US Open. Photo / Getty images.

Norway’s Casper Ruud has celebrated his rise towards the top of the world tennis rankings with confirmation he will compete in the 2023 ASB Classic in Auckland.

Ruud, who jumped to No2 in the world after finishing runner-up at the US Open yesterday, will become the highest-ranked male player in recent years to compete at the ASB Classic. He joins world No 8 Cameron Norrie in the field for Auckland.

Ruud, who went out in the round of 32 at the ASB Classic when last played in 2020, has worked his way up the global rankings, the first Norwegian to break into the top 10. In a breakthrough year for the 23-year-old , he has reached two Grand Slam finals: the French and US Opens. He was also runner-up at the 1000s event in Miami and won three ATP 250s this year in Buenos Aires, Geneva and Gstaad. Ruud has won nine ATP singles titles.

His confirmed entry is another massive boost for the event, set for Auckland during January 2-14 after a two-year absence.

“Casper has been one of the most improved players on the circuit over the last 18 months and is part of the new breed of exciting, athletic and skilful players,” said ASB Classic tournament director Nicolas Lamperin.

“He enjoyed our tournament when he last played here and had indicated he wanted to come back. It’s a huge extra bonus for all tennis fans that he comes back as one of the world’s best players.”

Ruud, who likes plenty of match-time before a Grand Slam, is keen to return to New Zealand as he prepares for the Australian Open, which he missed this year with injury.

“New Zealand is a very beautiful country. I’ve been a couple of times before. The conditions are very similar to Melbourne, so it’s a nice tournament to play and I look forward to it,” said Ruud. “I’m a player who likes to play a lot of matches, if I can. New Zealand’s a nice event and a place I have happy memories from.

“It’s typically good weather. It’s summer time and I’m coming from Norway where it’s Christmas; snowing and cold. They have a good culture, good food, good people and it’s fun to play in front of New Zealand crowds. There’s a good history of tennis at the tournament, which has been played for many years, so they know what they’re doing.

“I am a big fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies that were recorded there. I know the nature and scenery are incredible, so that would be nice to explore.”

Ruud’s signing is significant, while Norrie has always expressed a desire to play “at home” in Auckland, where his parents still live.

Top 10 players seldom play the week before a Grand Slam, and in recent years, there have been slim pickings for Auckland and the rival ATP tournament across the Tasman.

The likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray either played in an exhibition event at Kooyong or to get to Melbourne early to practice in the week before the year’s first Grand Slam.

To have two top 10 players locked away with three months to go before the Classic returns after a three year absence gives Lamperin strength at the top end of his field and he will no doubt hope to build depth below Ruud and Norrie.

There are any numbers of possibilities for additional signings.

The ASB men’s Classic has a strong history in attracting American players who have stopped in Auckland on the way to playing in Melbourne. US Open semi-finalist Frances Tiafoe being a case in point having played here the last time the tournament was held.

Tiafoe is up to a career high of 19 in the world and would be an obvious target for Lamperin as would fellow American Taylor Fritz, the world number 12 who has played in Auckland before. Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta (14th) and Roberto Bautista Agut (21st) were regulars to Auckland pre-Covid while Alejandro Davidovich-Fokina (28th) appeared here as a wildcard in 2020. It would not be a surprise if one or more of that trio return.

Canadian left hander Denis Shapovalov ranked 24th has been a popular visitor to Auckland and he’s sure to be on Lamperin’s radar as well.

Lamperin is also enigmatic Frenchman Gael Monfils’s agent. The veteran has been to Auckland twice before wooing fans with his spectacular shot-making of him. He is still ranked 32 in the world but has been sidelined with foot problems. If he is playing in January, one would hope his association di lui with Lamperin pays dividends.

Just one player has so far been announced for the women’s ASB Classic: American star Coco Gauff, who is at a career high of No 8 in the WTA rankings.