Mikael Ymer’s body and mind are both learning

By Jane Voigt — Tennis With An Accent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington D.C. is one steamy place in the summer. Players know that before they step foot on any of the Rock Creek Park hardcourts. Nonetheless, temperatures rose to over 96 degrees on Thursday, making movement, even walking, troublesome for fans, let alone the players dashing around on court surfaces that can reach over 130 degrees.

Emil Ruusuvuori and Mikael Ymer, both natives of northern European countries, braved the brutal conditions at the Citi Open. For just under three hours they scrambled and slid and dove for shots. They bent over their racquets when longer points ended, oxygen in short supply as their body temperatures climbed. Ymer, from Sweden, had not beaten his Finnish opponent in two prior meetings. Thursday, though, Ymer persevered to move to his first quarterfinal at an ATP 500-level event in his inaugural appearance here. This is also his first outdoor hardcourt tournament since the Australian Open. (He played a few indoor hardcourt events in February.)

“I’m very tired,” Ymer told the press after winning the match 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4. “It was really intense out there. But, I’m coming from Umag last week, which was hotter than this. So, for me, it’s really rough, but it feels a little bit like [I’m] acclimated.”

Ymer went on to say that the heat and humidity weren’t the only elements the players battle with.

“I think we are dealing with one of the toughest sports on this planet because besides dealing with the heat, you also have to constantly make so many decisions,” he said.

Ymer is a speedy player with keen anticipation, reacting quickly to shot placements.

“I run a lot because my dad was a runner. So, you know, when I run in the heat, I can just focus on the next step, [and] grind it out. It was a great battle. He [Ruusuvuori] has very good heart in terms of stamina, too.”

Although Ruusuvuori showed more outward signs of fatigue, beginning in the opening set, he rallied to extend the match, eventually going up a break in the third and looking as if he would be a quarterfinalist, also a first for him at Citi Open. But Ymer’s hustle in the third shattered Ruusuvuori’s plans.

“I enjoy playing on hardcourt,” Ymer began, having said in the past that he prefers clay. “I’m here with two close friends and I enjoy being in America. It’s a very good tournament. I have lots of energy from the crowd here.”

Ymer is currently ranked No. 115, quite a contrast with his opponent’s ranking of No. 46. Nonetheless, the Swede has been on a roll in D.C. On Monday in the opening round, he defeated Andy Murray. Ymer then went on to defeat Asian Karatsev, the 15th seed. In the quarterfinals, he will meet either Grigor Dimitrov (No. 5) or Sebastian Korda. Notably, clay courts are favored by Ymer.

“I think it’s really healthy for me to get these matches in,” Ymer began, speaking about his fitness.

Both Ymer and Ruusuvuori are 23 and considered players to watch. Ymer’s biggest career win came at Roland Garros in 2021. He defeated Gael Monfils to advance to the third round. Ruusuvuori has defeated Alexander Zverev to advance to the Round of 32 at the Miami Open in 2021. He first appeared at a Grand Slam event in 2020.

Young with room to grow describes both competitors in Thursday’s Citi Open thriller. It’s a sweet position for both men as they try to build their careers.

The match began with four breaks of serve. Each player demonstrated a reliance on similar styles from the baseline, executing deep groundstrokes and moving their opponent from corner to corner. At 2-2, Ymer held serve at love and didn’t look back. He then broke Ruusuvuori to win that set.

Although Ruusuvuori’s first serves were more consistent, his winning percentage lagged behind Ymer’s: 53% to 58. Nonetheless, the Finn changed his strategy in the second set, relying much more on his big first serve and his volleying ability. That changeup helped him secure the set, but not without a fight. In a herculean effort, the Finn beat off multiple break points and held to force the tiebreak, which gave him his only set of the match. 

Ymer’s first and second serve returns outstepped those from Ruusuvuori. The shots landed deep in his opponent’s court, a couple right at his feet, which left the “Rose Mountain” him flat-footed. With only 25 seconds to recover from longer rallies in the suppressive heat, the advantage remained with Ymer who, even at the end of the match, had a pep to his step between games.

“When I play one [match] and I play one [that’s] longer, it feels like my body goes into this mode where it actually – I wouldn’t say feel fresher, but it learns,” Ymer said. “It gets used to it. I felt similar playing Winston last year. I had lots of matches to reach the final and almost felt fresher and fresher to Frances [Tiafoe] and [Carlos] Alcaraz. I feel the same this year.”

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