When you come from icy cold terra firma that surrounds Casper Ruud‘s hometown of Oslo, Norway (where there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing), the balmy air, blooming bougainvillea and mountainous backdrops of the Coachella Valley can only be seen as a refreshing change of pace. Norway’s top player cherishes the opportunity to play tennis in the California desert and, if the stars properly align, he enjoys his time on the links as well. The No.8-seeded Norwegian tells BNP Paribas Open that he always packs his golf clubs when he comes stateside, even if he’s too busy winning tennis matches to play very often.
We caught up with the 23-year-old after his second-round victory over American Christopher Eubanks to check in on his on-court goals and – of course – his handicap.
How does it feel to be back at Indian Wells for the second time in five months?
It’s not often that you get to come back to a tournament after five months, the same place, so it’s a bit strange and different but I think the conditions are even nicer now in March, everything is a bit more green, personally I like to play golf so the golf courses are in better shape, so the grass is grown out again, and it’s a little bit more green, more flowers and everything.
The Conditions here in the California desert are unique. Players that perform well on clay like yourself often seem to like the conditions. How do you feel playing here?
The conditions I think suit me quite well, I feel like the ball is traveling a bit faster here, there is some altitude but not too much, but then again the courts are playing very slow, so it kind of evens it out. I have always, when I come, taken a couple of days to get into the rhythm, because it is honestly not like anywhere else to play here, it’s a bit different to get used to because the air is dryer and yes, the conditions are different.
It was a close second-round match today with Chris Eubanks, especially early. How did you manage to get through?
I think honestly the first set was so close and we both played well, I was hanging on the edge in the tiebreak there but was able to turn it around and I think, like I said on court, if Chris continues to play like this I see no reason why he shouldn’t be in the top-100 or top-50 – I hope he can do it by the end of the year because I think he’s a great player. He has all the shots.
What did you do well in the win?
Myself I played well from the back, which is what I kind of have to rely on. My serve is not my biggest weapon, but at the same time I served well. I made 70 percent of my first serves and was able to break him two times in the second set so overall it was a good performance and I’m happy with all aspects of the game.
I’ve read that you wanted to target the bigger events this year, how does playing well at Indian Wells fit into that stated mission?
Yes, for sure, like I said we were here only five months ago and I reached the fourth round so I kind of have a fourth round to defend when it comes to the points and I will have to play well to get there, but obviously the goal is to reach further and to win more matches at the bigger events.
I think I had quite good success last year in the Masters 1000 events, I think I reached three quarterfinals on hard courts and two semifinals on clay, so I mean, what I meant by the bigger tournaments was Grand Slams specifically, because last year was maybe a little bit of a disappointment compared to the rest of the season, but this is definitely a good start to the bigger events of the year, because this is the first of nine Masters 1000s and I think many people refer to Indian Wells as kind of like the fifth Grand Slam because the stadium is big and it’s such a great event, so it would obviously mean a lot and feel good to do well here.
Stefanos Tsitsipas was asked what it would mean to win Indian Wells in his pre-tournament press conference. He said it would be massive because it would be a signal that he’s ready to win a Grand Slam title. Do you feel the same way?
Yes, maybe. And I think Cameron Norrie showed last year that it is possible to do and to break through the top guys, for us guys coming from behind. Now obviously Rafa is here – he wasn’t here last year – and Daniil is the new No.1 so it’s exciting times to play tennis and to watch tennis so, hopefully this year we can have a new champion as well, or a first-time champion here.
How great is the golf here at Indian Wells, and how often do you get the chance to play when you’re traveling the tour?
I always bring my clubs when I go to the States, my own personal clubs, from back home, because even though you have golf courses everywhere in Palm Springs and here in the desert, I think the whole United States pretty much is like this. You can find golf courses anywhere and so many good ones. I bring the clubs also when I go to Toronto, Cincinnati and New York, because also the northeastern courses are incredible in their own way. Here you have the desert courses, which are unique.
— Casper Ruud (@CasperRuud98) October 5, 2021
When do you find the time to play?
I try to play as much as I can, but I don’t play 18 holes the day before a match, because I would like to save my energy for this. So it’s something I do a little bit when we are building up to the tournament, I try to play nine or 18 holes here and there if I get the time, but at the same time I’m here to do a job and that is to play tennis, so I can’t look at it as a vacation.
When we came here in 2020, I was so excited to play this event for the first time and then the moment we arrived at the hotel they just shut the whole tournament down, so that time we just decided to stay for ten days just to enjoy the weather and just to stay here. I got to play a lot during that time but I think hopefully I won’t play too much because that means it’s going well in the tennis, but here and in Florida you can find great courses, and I’m going to play in Houston as well, so I brought my clubs for this four or five week span, but let’s see how much I end up playing.
Are you a scratch golfer?
No, I cannot say I’m a scratch golfer, I’m around a two or three handicap.
What is the strong point of your game and what is the weak point?
I think my strong side when I play well is my drives. Being a tennis player you have some explosiveness in your body, so we tend to hit it quite far, though not quite like the guys on the PGA Tour. If I hit a couple of bombs it can go up to 310 yards, so when I drive it well it kind of builds my whole game. If you drive well you play well, it’s a little bit like this. If I don’t drive well I struggle a lot.
What part of the game do you struggle with?
The worst part would be maybe from the sand. I don’t feel too comfortable in the sand, it’s frustrating to see on TV how good they are from the bunkers and the sand because it looks so easy but I guess the sand in Norway is a bit different from over here. It rains a lot in Norway so I never really went into practice too many bunker shots in golf. But if I could choose one shot to be better at in golf it would be from the sand.