After 10 years of waiting, Chile has an ATP Tour singles champion. Christian Garin dug deep on Sunday in the final of the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, weathering a barrage of aggressive forehands from #NextGenATP Norwegian Casper Ruud to prevail 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3.
“It was a really intense match today. I think what I did well was to keep playing my game throughout the match,” said Garin. “Of course, now I want more, so I have to keep working hard and improving every day.”
The 22-year-old is the first Chilean champion since Fernando Gonzalez prevailed in Vina del Mar in 2009. Garin is also the first player from his country to win an ATP Tour clay-court event on American soil since Gonzalez won an all-Chilean final against Nicolas Massu in Orlando in 2000. He improved his FedEx ATP Head2Head against Ruud to 2-0 after previously defeating the Norwegian last month in the Brasil Open semi-finals.
Garin’s run to the Houston title was far from simple. He was pushed to three sets in his opening round against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay and saved five match points to defeat second seed Jeremy Chardy of France in the second round.
His maiden ATP Tour title signified the rapid progress he’s made over the past 12 months. Garin was ranked outside of the Top 200 last year, but finished 2018 with a flourish by winning three straight ATP Challenger Tour titles in South America. He then reached his first ATP Tour final last month in Sao Paulo (l. to Pella). Garin will have a new career-high ATP Ranking on Monday and is projected to break into the Top 50.
Despite the loss, Ruud can be pleased with reaching his first ATP Tour final. He and his father, Christian Ruud, are the only two players from Norway to ever reach a final at this level. Ruud has continued to be solid on the clay this season, reaching the quarter-finals at the Rio Open presented by Claro and semi-finals in Sao Paulo. The latter result enabled him to crack the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings for the first time.
“I felt I played a good match, but he was a bit better in the end and deserved the win,” said Ruud. “It’s still a good confidence [booster] for myself to show that I can play at this level.”
Garin earned 250 ATP Rankings points and $100,600, while Ruud picked up 150 ATP Rankings points and $54,395.
Both men struggled to hold serve in the early stages of the match and each dropped serve twice in the first eight games. Little separated them through the tie-break until 4/3, when Garin rifled a backhand return winner for the mini-break and went on to grab the early advantage.
Ruud rallied from a set down in his second-round win over fourth seed Reilly Opelka and was up for a fight. Finding the range on his serve and forehand, he applied pressure to Garin and eventually got a backhand error from the Chilean on break point to lead 3-2. The slight lead was all the Norwegian needed and he eventually forced a decider.
The turning point came at 2-2 in the final set, when Ruud was unable to capitalise on three break point chances. Sensing the opportunity, Garin raised his level and broke in the next game by chasing down a drop shot and flicking a forehand winner.
Serving for the title at 5-3, Garin held his nerve and hammered an ace to set up championship point. A heavy forehand on the next point brought the crowd to their feet and Garin to his knees as he wrapped up the contest in two hours and 29 minutes.