Paris: A flawless Casper Ruud returned to the French Open final for a second year running by dismantling German 22nd seed Alexander Zverev 6-3 6-4 6-0 in a battle of big-hitters on Friday to set up a showdown with 22-times Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic.
Ruud, who was swept aside by Rafa Nadal in straight sets as the Spaniard won his 14th crown on the Parisian clay last year, endured an up-and-down 2023 season until his return to Roland Garros where he has returned to peak form.
The 24-year-old will face the ultimate test in his quest for a maiden Grand Slam when he meets Djokovic, who advanced to the title clash after beating an ailing Carlos Alcaraz.
"It's going to be tough this year against Novak. Two of the toughest in history and will be the underdog again," Ruud said.
"I know Novak is trying to be the greatest. I'm going to try my best. He's going for Grand Slam number 23 and I'm going for my first, so there's a big difference." Ruud swapped early breaks with Zverev before turning up the heat on a warm evening on Court Philippe Chatrier by pounding the German with some vicious, spin-heavy forehands to go up 5-2 en route to claiming the opening set.
Zverev, playing in a third straight Roland Garros semi-final at the scene of his season-ending ankle injury last year, wasted an early opening in the next set and found himself in trouble as fourth seed Ruud snatched another break in the seventh game.
Ruud extended his lead in the match and continued to control the rallies from behind the baseline to frustrate an error-prone Zverev in the next set, before storming into a third Grand Slam final in his last five events going back to Roland Garros 2022.
"I didn't come here thinking I was the favourite to reach the final," said Ruud, who also made the U.S. Open title clash last year where he was beaten by Alcaraz.
"I was trying to take one match at a time. Let's see how it goes from there. I was always thinking about how to defend this final spot... hopefully third time can be the charm for me." Victory put Ruud in elite company, as he became the fourth Scandinavian man to reach three or more Grand Slam finals, after Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg.