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TennisBalls | 10sBalls• Ricky’s pick for the Miami Open final: Casper Ruud vs. Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz faces Casper Ruud in the Miami Open final. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER

By Ricky Dimon

Some thought that Casper Ruud was a clay-court specialist. Others thought that Carlos Alcaraz was still a year or two away from stardom.

Wrong on both counts.

Ruud and Alcaraz will battle for the Miami Open title on Sunday afternoon, with both players making their debut appearances in a final at the Masters 1000 level. Ruud is 7-2 lifetime in ATP finals, all of which have come at 250 tournaments. Alcaraz, who is only 18 years old, is 17-2 this season and already owns a 500-point title (Rio de Janeiro).

This marks their second head-to-head meeting, as they squared off last spring on the red clay of Marbella and Alcaraz rolled 6-2, 6-4.

“I barely had any chance at all,” Ruud admitted. “He was just coming out firing flames at me.”

Alcaraz has been doing that against just about everyone in 2022. Only Matteo Berrettini (Australian Open) and Rafael Nadal (Indian Wells) have managed to withstand the teenager’s onslaught. Miomir Kecmanovic and Hubert Kecmanovic came close in the Miami quarters and semis, respectively, but nobody has been able to stop Alcaraz this fortnight. The world No. 16 preceded those victories with straight-set defeats of Marton Fucsovics, Marin Cilic, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Casper Ruud is through to his first Masters 1000 final. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER

Prior to 2021, Ruud was 16-27 lifetime in ATP hard-court matches. He is since 36-13. The turnaround that began last year included a title in San Diego and a semifinal showing at the Nitto ATP Finals. Continuing to thrive on hard courts while also benefiting from relatively slow Miami conditions, the eighth-ranked Norwegian has advanced so far this fortnight by taking out Henri Laaksonen, Alexander Bublik, Cameron Norrie, Alexander Zverev, and Francisco Cerundolo.

It has been a mostly favorable draw for Ruud and you might think that getting to play the No. 14 seed in the final is a continuation of that trend. But people have thought wrong about these guys in the past, and that mistake won’t be made again. It’s clear that Alcaraz represents a nightmare matchup for Ruud–and for just about anyone else these days.

Alcaraz is having no trouble blasting winners from all directions through these slow conditions. Moreover, he will benefit from a much-needed day of rest following hard-fought contests against Kecmanovic and Hurkacz on Thursday and Friday.

Ruud may be on a roll, himself, but Alcaraz is simply at a different level.

Pick: Alcaraz in 2

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.