NEW YORK –
Carlos Alcaraz, who was heading to his first Grand Slam final at the age of 19, banged his fists at fans leaning over a railing on the way to Arthur Ashe Stadium court. Moments later, after the coin toss, Alcaraz turned to sprint to the baseline to warm up before being waved back to the net by the chair umpire for the usual pre-game photos.
Alcaraz is filled with boundless enthusiasm and energy, not to mention skill, speed, stamina and cold blood. And now he’s a US Open champion and No. 1 in men’s tennis.
With his unusual combination of moxie and maturity, Alcaraz beat Casper Ruud 6-4 2-6 7-6(1) 6-3 on Sunday to both lift the trophy at Flushing Meadows and become the youngest man , who tops the ATP rankings.
“Well, that’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid,” said Alcaraz, who people of a certain age might still think of as a kid. “It’s something I’ve worked very, very hard for. It’s hard to talk about now. Lots of emotions.”
Alcaraz has already garnered a lot of attention as someone who is seen as the next big thing in a sport that has been dominated for decades by Big Three Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
The Spaniard was greeted by choruses of “Ole, Ole, Ole! Carlos!” this echoed off the closed arena roof – and Alcaraz often motioned for spectators to turn up the volume. There were a few magic points that drew a standing ovation, including an Alcaraz losing with a laser on a forehand on the run while landing face down on his stomach.
He only showed brief signs of fatigue, having to endure three consecutive five-setters in the three rounds just before the final; Nobody in New York had walked such an arduous path to the title for 30 years.
Alcaraz went in the fourth round against 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic in five sets, finishing at 2:23 on Tuesday. against Jannik Sinner in the Quarterfinals, a 5 hour 15 minute thriller that ended at 2:50 on Friday after Alcaraz had to save a match point; and against Frances Tiafoe in the semifinals.
“You have to give everything on the pitch. You have to give everything you have inside. I worked really, really hard to earn it,” said Alcaraz. “It’s not time to be tired.”
However, this was no walk in the park.
Alcaraz dropped the second set and faced two set points while trailing 6-5 in the third. Could have been a game-changing moment.
But he erased every one of those point-from-the-score opportunities for Ruud with the kind of quick, soft-handed reflex volleys he repeatedly displayed.
And with the help of a series of shafted shots from a toned-looking Ruud in the ensuing tie-break, Alcaraz stormed through to the end of that set.
A break in the fourth was all Alcaraz needed to seal victory in the only Grand Slam final between two players seeking both a first major championship and first place in the ATP’s 1973 computerized rankings.
The winner was guaranteed first in Monday’s leaderboard; the loser was guaranteed second.
“Both Carlos and I knew what we were playing for. We knew what was at stake,” said Ruud. “I find it fitting. Of course I’m disappointed that I’m not number 1, but number 2 isn’t bad either.”
He is a 23-year-old Norwegian who is now 0-2 in the Slam final. At the French Open in June, he was second behind Nadal.
Much like Nadal, Ruud stood far back near the wall to return serves, but also during Sunday’s scoring run, much more so than Alcaraz, who attacked whenever he could.
Alcaraz grabbed Ruud’s weaker side, the backhand, and succeeded that way.
Last but not least, Ruud gets the sportsmanship award for conceding a point he knew he didn’t deserve. It came while he was 4-3 down in the opener; He ran for a short ball that bounced twice before his racquet touched him. The game went on and Alcaraz hesitated, then screwed up his answer. Ruud told the chair umpire what had happened and passed the point to Alcaraz, who gave his opponent a thumbs-up and applauded along with the crowd.
Alcaraz certainly seems like a rare talent as he possesses a game on all courts, a mix of basic power and a willingness to go forward. He won 34 of the 45 points he finished at the net.
On serve – he delivered 14 aces at up to 200km/h – and on the return he becomes increasingly of a threat, scoring 11 break points and converting three.
Make no mistake: Ruud is no chump. There’s a reason he’s the youngest man since Nadal to reach two major finals in a season, winning a 55-shot point, the longest of the tournament, in the semifinals.
But this was Alcaraz’s time to shine under the lights.
Some perspective: He’s the first teenager to win the US Open since Pete Sampras in 1990 and the first to triumph in a Slam since Nadal at the 2005 French Open.
That’s decent company.
Another way to understand how precocious Alacaraz is: the last man to win this tournament in his first or second appearance was Pancho Gonzalez in 1948, before professionals were allowed onto the field.
For the context of the rankings, it’s helpful to know that Novak Djokovic hasn’t played at the US Open or Australian Open this year, hasn’t been able to travel to those countries because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19, and didn’t receive a rank promotion for his has Wimbledon championship because points were not offered for anyone after the All England Club banned athletes from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine.
Regardless of the circumstances, it is significant that Alcaraz is the first teenage boy to take the No. 1 spot.
Nobody else did. Not Nadal, not Djokovic, not Federer, not Sampras. No one.
When a last service winner ricocheted off Ruud’s body on Sunday, Alcaraz flopped onto his back on the court, then rolled onto his stomach and covered his face with his hands.
He went to the stands to hug with his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former No. 1 who won the French Open in 2003 and reached the final of that year’s US Open, and others, crying the whole time.
You only get 1st place once for the first time. You only win a first Grand Slam title once. Many people expect Alcaraz to celebrate these kinds of exploits in the years to come.