Throughout this historic season, as he has methodically climbed toward the top of his career despite being a teenager in his full second year on the ATP Tour, Carlos Alcaraz has been crystal clear about his goal: He was here to win the majors. Not at some point in the future, or when he gains more experience, but now. It was ready.
He backed his intentions every step of the way, and on Sunday evening, he wrapped up his thrilling journey to his first Grand Slam title by taking on an intense challenge from Casper Rudd before continuing to build shots and physique. He overcame his Norwegian opponent 6-4, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 to win the US Open – and the Grand Slam title – for the first time in his young career.
“This is crazy for me. I never thought I would achieve something like this at the age of 19,” said Alcaraz. “So it all came so fast. For me this is incredible. It’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid, since I started playing tennis.”
Having spent a lot of the past few years breaking records, he’s now going to take on the most impressive of all, which can go on for a long time. Alcars will climb to the world number one 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 old, the Spaniard is the first teenager ever to be named the #1 man and more than a year younger than previous record holder, Lleyton Hewitt.
The final was the first time in the Open Era that two players faced each other with their first Grand Slam title and first on the line. The 23-year-old Alcaraz Rudd, who reached the French Open final earlier this year, played the second-youngest Grand Slam final of the Open Era in terms of player age, after only the 1990 US Open between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
While playing the best tennis of this tournament from a distance, Alcaraz couldn’t have faced a more difficult week before the final. Before starting his match with Rudd, he had spent 20 hours and 20 minutes on the field, and three back-to-back five referees had gone on. The Spaniard was amazing, but constantly complicating his path. With the final kick off this year, the question was whether he would eventually reach his physical limits.
“I always say there is no time to get tired,” Alcaraz said with a smile. “In the grand slam finals or any tournament. You have to give everything on the court, you have to give whatever you have on the inside.”
Alcaraz started the match by playing freely, attacking tennis, firing his full range of shots, and sweeping the net constantly. Despite being late to a set, Rudd was assertive. The Norwegian absorbed and retrieved everything he could, remained consistent, and made decisions at a high rate when he attacked.
In the process, Rudd created some great improv tennis, showing off his hand skills at the cat-and-mouse points started by Alcaraz.
By the end of the second set, Alcaraz was struggling a bit, trying a lot of failed shots and making questionable decisions. With tennis swinging at Alcaraz, Rudd started serving well, injected more speed into the ground strokes and established himself with a forehand. He made his move in a thrilling 6-5 match, leaving a forehand from across the field as he bravely netted two set points.
With his back to the wall, Alcaraz hit the net, saving the first set point with a nice forehand shot. Later in the match, a return from Roode was startled by Alcaraz when he attempted a serve and shot, which yielded the second set point. Without hesitation, the teenager attempted a serve and shot again, this time running a well-calculated air ball to save the group. She was daring, and as he carried a transmission above his head after a sensational point, the audience responded with a standing ovation.
Rod threw it all into the serve break and immediately deflated. He played a terrible tiebreak, with his back hand leaving him poorly. He had no other answers for the superior dynamic imaging of Alcaraz as he rushed toward victory. When Alcaraz collapsed to the ground, he sobbed into his hands as he thought of his mother and grandfather at home in Murcia.
“I am hungry for more. I want to be on top for a few weeks. I hope many years,” Alcaraz said. “I will work hard again after this week, these two amazing weeks. I will fight to get more of this.”
Not since Rafael Nadal’s initial ascent, around the year Alcaraz was born in 2003, has I felt reaching the top of the sport with certainty. More exciting than expected, Alcaraz has shown many layers of his greatness over the past two weeks, from his athletic game to his endless toolkit of shots to his nerves and the sheer joy he gets from the game.
In a sport that often reduces teens to desperate cramping in their early years of five-set matches, he also demonstrated unrivaled toughness throughout his 23 hours and 40 minutes on the court. Alcaraz gave the world a comprehensive display of his talent and potential, and it seemed there was no limit to what he could achieve next.
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