Finn on tour – Sports

It is a coincidence that Emil Ruusuvuori became a tennis professional. He says himself and tells how his path began in a sports hall in Helsinki. “I played badminton with my mother. A coach saw me and said I had good ball-eye coordination. I should try tennis.” Ruusuvuori tried other disciplines after that, including ice hockey, of course, but it is no different in Finland. But tennis? “It was my number one sport. Since then I’ve been chasing my dream. Now I’m here.”

And it’s not that bad where he is. This Friday, Ruusuvuori is in the quarterfinals of the BMW Open in Munich, 18-year-old Holger Rune, who surprisingly defeated Alexander Zverev, is his opponent. While the Dane is one of the talents who gets a lot of attention, 23-year-old Ruusuvuori is more of a swimmer, it seems. He is currently in 63rd place in the world rankings, which does not sound spectacular – but one has to put this achievement in perspective. There is only one other Finn among the 750 best tennis professionals in the world: Otto Virtanen, 20, is in 371st place, and logically Ruusuvuori also represents the national team with him. “It’s not easy to become a professional in Finland,” Ruusuvuori admits. He speaks kindly and calmly, running his fingers through his longer blonde hair.

It was hard to find sponsors: “I do not know how many emails my mother sent to companies.”

Stories like his are first and foremost family stories. No one at home was good at sports, not even his siblings, brother Elias and sister Aino. When his talent crystallized, everyone supported him, “even today everyone is involved”. The parents funded coaching sessions, equipment, trips. He was noticed by the Finnish Tennis Federation when he was a teenager. But it was mother Eva who found her first sponsor when he was 15. “I do not know how many emails my mother sent to companies, there were many. Just to find a supporter.” Any help would bring him forward. “Tennis is just a very expensive sport, especially when you live in a country like Finland and you have to fly everywhere to compete at a higher level. The situation is good now, but it was not easy.” He has so far earned around 1.3 million euros in prize money.

The most successful Finnish tennis professional was Jarkko Nieminen, who lost to a certain Roger Federer in the final of the BMW Open in 2003 and reached the 13th place in the world rankings in 2006. Today, Nieminen, 40, is the Finnish Davis Cup team manager and of course a friend of Ruusuvuori. He advises him too, they train sometimes. As a one-man team, Ruusuvuori has to make connections everywhere, he can not just hang out in a group of countrymen like the numerous Spaniards. There’s only him. He also joins forces with Norwegian Casper Ruud as a training community, or with Swedish professionals. In the German Bundesliga, at TC Großhesselohe, he earns something extra.

To get to the European clay court tournaments faster, he has taken an apartment in Milan

Another challenge was and is for him that he is not equally good on all surfaces. “I’m from Finland, where they play indoors nine months a year, so I prefer hard court,” he says. “I had my best results on this surface.” A year ago, he defeated Alexander Zverev in Miami in the second round. He also won over Dominik Thiem in the Davis Cup in 2019, indoors. In order to survive on sand and grass, he must catch up. “I’m trying to get to the point where it does not matter what surface I’m playing on.” That’s the only way he can climb further up. To get to the European clay court tournaments faster, he has also taken an apartment in Milan.

For someone like him, a quarterfinal in an ATP tournament in the 250 category is a success, with a win against Rune he would even advance to the semifinals. “My confidence is very high,” he says. “I’ve played really good tennis this year. I’ve also had some great matches, for example at Center Court in Melbourne against Rafa.” He talks about the preparatory tournament for the Australian Open, when he lost to the acclaimed Spaniard Rafael Nadal 4: 6, 5: 7 in the semifinals. One thing is already certain: After the Munich tournament, he, the Finnish soloist on the tour, will for the first time climb into the top 60. “I’m looking forward to this year,” he says.

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