Throughout this historic season, as he methodically worked his way to the top of his profession as a teenager in just his second full year on the ATP Tour, Carlos Alcaraz was always clear on his objective: he was there to win Grand Slam tournaments. Not at some vague time in the future, or when he’s gained a little more experience, but now. He was ready.
He supported his intentions every step of the way and on Sunday night he capped off his mad and thrilling drive towards his maiden Grand Slam title by withstanding an intense challenge from Casper Ruud before continuing with his shooting and athleticism. He beat his Norwegian opponent 6-4, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 to win the US Open – and a Grand Slam title – for the first time in his young career.
“It’s crazy for me. I never thought I was going to achieve something like this at 19,” Alcaraz said. “So it all came so fast. For me it’s amazing. is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid, ever since I started playing tennis.
After spending much of the last few years breaking age records, he’ll now take on the most impressive of them all, one that could last a long time. Alcaraz will become world No. 1 on Monday for the first time in his career, making him the youngest player to achieve the feat in ATP history. At 19 years and four months, the Spaniard is the first teenage No.1 the men’s game has ever had and more than a year younger than previous record holder Lleyton Hewitt.
The final marked the first time in the Open era that two players have faced off with a maiden Grand Slam title and the No. 1 ranking at stake. Alcaraz and Ruud, 23, who reached the Open final from France earlier this year also played in the second-youngest Grand Slam final of the Open era in terms of player age, behind only the 1990 US Open between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
While he had played the best tennis in this tournament from a considerable distance, Alcaraz could not have faced a tougher week before the final. Prior to the start of his match with Ruud, he had spent 20 hours and 20 minutes on the court and played three straight matches in five sets. The Spaniard had been spectacular, but he constantly complicated his way. As the final kicked off this year, the question was whether he would eventually reach his physical limits.
“I always say there’s no time to be tired,” Alcaraz said with a smile. “In the Grand Slam final or any tournament. You have to give it your all on the court, you have to give it your all on the inside.
Alcaraz started the match playing free, attacking the tennis, displaying his full range of shots, constantly sweeping towards the net. Despite a set behind, Ruud was resolute. The Norwegian absorbed and clawed back everything he could, staying steady, making high percentage decisions when attacking.
In the process, Ruud invented sublime improvisational tennis, showing his own hand skills in the cat-and-mouse points initiated by Alcaraz.
By the end of the second set, Alcaraz was struggling slightly, attempting too many missed drop shots and making questionable decisions. As Alcaraz’s tennis swayed, Ruud started to serve well, injected more pace into his groundstrokes and came out on top with his forehand. He made his move in a breathless game at 6-5, unleashing his forehand from all parts of the court as he bravely generated two set points.
With his back to the wall, Alcaraz responded to the net, saving the first set point with a sweet forehand volley. Later in the match, a return from Ruud whistled by Alcaraz as he tried to serve and volley, which produced a second set point. Without hesitation, the teenager once again attempted a serve and volley, this time executing a well-measured volley to save the set. It was daring, and as he held the serve with a smash after a thrilling point, the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Ruud had thrown everything into the breaking service and he was immediately deflated. He played a terrible tie-break, his backhand letting him down badly. He had no other answers for Alcaraz’s supreme and dynamic shot as he raced to victory. As Alcaraz collapsed to the ground, he sobbed into his hands thinking of his mother and grandfather in Murcia.
“I’m hungry for more. I want to be on top for many, many weeks. I hope for many years,” Alcaraz said. “I will work hard again after this week, these amazing two weeks. I will fight for more.
Not since Rafael Nadal’s initial rise, around the year Alcaraz was born in 2003, has an arrival at the top of the sport been so certain. It’s been even more spectacular than expected, with Alcaraz showcasing many layers of his greatness over the past two weeks, from his athleticism to his endless toolbox of shots to his nerve and the sheer joy he withdraw from the game.
In a sport that often reduces teenagers to helpless cramps in their early years of five-set competition, he also showed unrivaled durability throughout his 23 hours and 40 minutes on the court. Alcaraz has given the world full exposure of his talent and potential, and there seems to be no limit to what he can achieve next.
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