NEW YORK: Walking out for his first Grand Slam final at age 19, Carlos Alcaraz bumped fists with fans leaning over a railing along the path leading to the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
Moments later, after the toss, Alcaraz turned to sprint to the baseline for the warm-up, until being beckoned back to the net by the chair umpire for the customary pre-match photos. Alcaraz is imbued with boundless enthusiasm and energy, not to mention skill, speed, stamina and sangfroid.
And now, he is a US Open champion and the No.1 player in men’s tennis. Using his uncommon combination of moxie and maturity, Alcaraz beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 on Sunday to earn the trophy at Flushing Meadows and become the youngest man to lead the ATP rankings.
“Well, this is something that I have dreamed of since I was a kid,” said Alcaraz, whom folks of a certain age might still consider a kid. “It is something I worked really, really hard [for]. It is tough to talk right now. A lot of emotions.”
Alcaraz, who moved up three ranking spots from No.4 on Monday, already has attracted plenty of attention as someone considered the ‘Next Big Thing’ in a sport dominated for decades by the ‘Big Three’ of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
“He is one of these few rare talents that comes up every now and then in sports. That is what it seems like,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway. “Let us see how his career develops, but it is going all in the right direction.”
The Spaniard was serenaded by choruses of “Olé, Olé, Olé! Carlos!” that reverberated off the arena’s closed roof and Alcaraz often motioned for the spectators to get louder. There were a couple of magical points that drew standing ovations, including one which Alcaraz lost with a laser of an on-the-run forehand.
He only briefly showed signs of fatigue from having to get through three consecutive five-setters in the rounds right before the final; no one had gone through that arduous a route on the way to the title in New York in 30 years.
This was not a stroll to the finish, though. Alcaraz dropped the second set and faced a pair of set points while down 5-6 in the third. But, he erased each of those point-from-the-set opportunities for Ruud with the sorts of quick-reflex, soft-hand volleys, which he repeatedly displayed.
And with help from a series of shanked shots by a tight-looking Ruud in the ensuing tie-breaker, Alcaraz surged to the end of that set. One break in the fourth set was all it took for Alcaraz to seal the victory in the only Grand Slam final between two players seeking both a first major championship and the top spot in the ATP’s computerised rankings, which date to 1973.
Final: Men’s singles: C Ruud lost to C Alcaraz 4-6, 6-2, 6-7(1), 3-6; Men’s doubles: R Ram/J Salisbury bt W Koolhof/N Skupski 7-6(4), 7-5; Women’s doubles: K Siniakova/B Krejcikova bt C McNally/T Townsend 3-6, 7-5, 6-1; Mixed doubles: S Sanders/ J Peers bt K Flipkens/E Roger-Vasselin 4-6, 6-4, 10-7.