(Reuters) – Norwegian trailblazer Casper Ruud said he is ready for the big stage when he takes on world number one Novak Djokovic in his debut match at the ATP Finals in Turin on Monday.
Ruud is the first player from Norway to qualify for the elite eight-player tournament having risen to eighth in the ATP rankings on the back of a stellar season.
The 22-year-old has won five ATP titles this year, all but one on clay, and has posted victories against fellow Turin qualifiers Matteo Berrettini and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Five-time champion Djokovic presents a baptism of fire at the Pala Alpitour but Ruud insists he is now feeling comfortable competing on the world’s biggest arenas.
“This year has been a big step for me, I’ve got more comfortable on the big stage,” Ruud told reporters. “This is one of the biggest stages on the ATP Tour.
“The court feels good and I’m looking forward to Monday. I’m happy with the group I am in.”
Ruud will also face Tsitsipas and Russian Andrey Rublev in the Green Group with the top two advancing to the semi-finals.
“It feels exciting (as he is) the toughest player to play in the world,” said Ruud. “He knows the routine and has won the event many times. He almost won four majors this year, and there was only one player that stopped him.
“I did watch the US Open final, so I may ask Daniil (Medvedev) how he beat him! Novak is a complete player with pretty much no weaknesses. I will try and enjoy the moment, but I know it’s a tough task ahead on Monday.”
Ruud sealed his place in Turin at the Paris Masters this month and said that released some pressure after months of checking the rankings and watching his rivals.
“There were a lot of nerves involved, and pressure,” he said. “It’s my debut (in Turin), and I’d like to play at this event again, but for now I will enjoy the moment.
“I want to play my next three matches without pressure, because the last few months there has been almost too much pressure!”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)