Casper Ruud advanced to his first European clay-court semi-final of the season Friday, downing Canadian Denis Shapovalov 7-6(7), 7-5 at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
The Norwegian arrived in Rome off the back of disappointing early exits at ATP Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Madrid. However, the fifth seed has regained his best level in the Italian capital, with his high-intensity and all-action win against Shapovalov setting up a last-four meeting with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic or Felix Auger-Aliassime.
In a tight match on center court, Ruud saved one set point in the first-set tie-break at 5/6 and then another on serve at 4-5 in the second set before he eventually moved past World No. 16 Shapovalov in two hours and 19 minutes.
”I think one of the most important things on clay is to put a lot of first serves in. Today was working well,” Ruud said. “I was serving well all match. At the beginning you are sometimes a bit nervous and excited to start, but after that I was able to calm down and find my tempo.”
It is the second time the 23-year-old has advanced to the semi-finals in Rome after he enjoyed a run to the same stage in his previous appearance in 2020.
Ruud, who reached the last eight on clay in Barcelona and Munich in April, now leads the 13th seed 2-0 in their ATP Head2Head series, having defeated Shapovalov in the Geneva championship match last season.
Ruud lifted the trophy in Buenos Aires in February and is aiming to win his eighth tour-level title this week but first ATP Masters 1000 crown. The World No. 10 reached the final in Miami earlier this season.
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In a tight opening set, Shapovalov had great success when moving forward, winning 9/11 points at the net as he put Ruud under pressure. However, the fifth seed, who hit 10 winners in the set, stuck to his task and received a huge slice of luck with a net cord at 7/7 in the tie-break, which gave him his second set point.
Ruud took full advantage on serve to lead before he continued to play the more consistent tennis in the second set. He saved one set point on serve at 4-5 and then converted on his ninth break point in a mammoth 14-minute game to move 6-5 ahead. Ruud then held his nerve to serve out for victory.
“You always feel the nerves a little bit extra on break points, especially against a big server such as Shapo,” Ruud said. “It is not easy to get a break against him, so you need to take the chances you have and the one I got was enough to seal the second set.”
Shapovalov upset Rafael Nadal en route to last eight, where he was trying to maintain his perfect Masters 1000 quarter-final record, having come into Friday’s clash at 5-0 at that stage.