Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can tell himself that he ended his career by manhandling the Roland-Garros finalist. Even better. Faller of the French in the first round, the Norwegian Casper Ruud qualified, Friday, June 3, for the final of the Parisian Grand Slam tournament, beating the Croatian Marin Cilic in four sets (3-6, 6-4, 6- 2, 6-2). At 23, the right-hander from the North will face his childhood idol and quasi-owner of the premises, Rafael Nadal, on Sunday.

“He has been my idol all my life, and this is where we will meet for the first time,” marveled the winner after the meeting, at the microphone of Fabrice Santoro. Apart from Nadal, the young man has rubbed shoulders with all the best players, and he enjoys meeting on the biggest stage of Roland-Garros the one who won his thirteen finals at Porte d’Auteuil. “It’s the perfect timing, and it was worth the wait.” And I hope it will be worth it for him too, he has played so many finals here, smiled the Norwegian. But at least this time it will be against a student from his academy. “Because at the end of 2018, struggling to break into the elite, the young man had invited himself to the freshly opened “Rafa Nadal Academy”, established on the native island of Mallorca.

After a start to the game where Marin Cilic extended the state of grace that has inhabited him since the start of the tournament, the Norwegian gradually got his hands on the game. Far from panicking with the loss of the first round, Ruud gradually reversed the trend. His child’s play on clay – clay – frustrated the Croatian giant: with clockwork regularity from the baseline, this son of a former 39th in the world relied on his forehand to undermine his opponent. Marin Cilic was wary, however. “I’ve played against Casper twice [two losses]. He is one of the best players on the circuit, especially on clay. He loves playing on this surface,” he said before the game.

But like the Dane Holger Rune in the previous round, Cilic found himself unable to solve the equation proposed by the world number 8. While the Croatian, one of the most popular players on the circuit, didn’t lose his temper like the young Dane – who then accused Ruud of talking to him the whole game, denouncing “unsportsmanlike behaviour”, which denied the Norwegian – he couldn’t do anything.

Not a “flashy” player

“I didn’t start well, but Marin was playing really, really well,” Casper Ruud said after the game, explaining that he had to adapt, then “counter-attacked, changed [his] game a bit, and above all upped [his] level of play”.

Recently, the Norwegian admitted “not to be a ‘flashy’ player who will try huge shots or ‘trick-shots’ in all directions. The first player from his country to reach a Grand Slam final, he wants to be more down to earth. “My game is to work the opponent, and clay is the surface that best suits this style,” he continued, in an interview with ATP. His secret is above all to never rush.

Patient, Casper Ruud is. Including when it came to waiting for a climate activist, who came to the net to protest against government inaction, to be evacuated. “When I was younger, I was more emotional, more negative too, exposed the player. But over the years, I have become more mature. And Rafa is also a perfect example of the behavior to have, to always stay focused on the game.

Asked at the end of his semi-final cut short by the injury of the German Alexander Zverev, his future opponent was full of praise for the one who went several times to his tennis academy, in the Balearic Islands. “To me, there’s no real surprise, Casper is one of the contenders [for Grand Slam titles]. He is one of those who can win, praised Rafael Nadal. Whenever there is a clay court event, it is one of the favorites. It’s not a surprise at all. »

As since the start of the fortnight, Casper Ruud discreetly extended the adventure at Roland-Garros. After a first lap where his victory was eclipsed by the retirement of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – which he accommodated without worry -, and several laps without making a wave, the Norwegian dominated Marin Cilic without dismounting. An ace (direct service) completed the meeting, after 2:55 of play (i.e. less than the unfinished meeting between Nadal and Zverev). And here is Casper Ruud one step away from a first title in the Grand Slam tournament. To achieve this, the task promises to be immense: not only will he have to unbolt the absolute master of the Parisian clay court; but, perhaps harder, he will have to agree to beat his idol.