A potentially legendary career in men’s tennis reached a milestone on Sunday when Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz won his first Grand Slam title at the US Open, beating Norway’s Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 , 6-3.
Alcaraz, who turned 19 in May, has been the subject of inflated expectations and breathless predictions of greatness since his early teens. But it would have been difficult for even his staunchest supporters to imagine how quickly he rose to the top of the game.
After being ranked 141st at the start of the 2021 season, his victory at the US Open makes Alcaraz the first teenage boy to reach world No. He is also the youngest man to win a first Grand Slam title since Rafael Nadal did it just before his 19th birthday at the 2005 French Open.
And he did it the hard way, struggling for three straight five-set matches before a tough final against an opponent who brought a lot of quality to the table and forced Alcaraz to put on their best tennis despite clearly tired legs.
Alcaraz’s total of 23 hours and 39 minutes on the pitch is the most combined time on the pitch a player has ever endured at a major tournament, surpassing Kevin Anderson’s 23 hours and 20 minutes in a race to the 2018 Wimbledon final.
This workload could have eventually caught up with a lesser player. But Alcaraz, in addition to his superior physical ability, showed remarkable mental acumen and tactical brilliance in the final to manage his body and capture the biggest moments.
After his energy dropped about an hour into the game, helping a cooler Ruud to a 6-2 second win to level the game, Alcaraz appeared to regain control when he earned an early serve break in the third set and had the opportunity to go up in double break. Instead, with Ruud playing solid tennis himself and refusing to give up points with sloppy errors,
Alcaraz found himself serving at 5-6 and facing two break points. He saved them both by attacking the net and fending off volleys, showcasing the all-court play that separated him from the dozens of young players who struggled to break through at Grand Slams.
After that key service grab, Alcaraz dominated the tiebreaker to put it one set away from victory. In the fourth set, both players held serve until it was 2-3 when Alcaraz’s blistering speed and ground coverage to accompany massive forehands finally generated a break of serve to bring him closer to the line. ‘arrival.
Serving for the match, Alcaraz missed an easy overhead that would have given them a 40-0 lead. But he responded immediately with an ace in the middle for some breathing room, then finished the title at 40-30 with a wide, heavy serve that Ruud couldn’t put his racket on.
Although much of the tennis world has known about Alcaraz’s enormous talent for some time, he hadn’t produced any breakthrough results until last year’s US Open when he upset Stefanos Tsitsipas at the third round and qualified for the quarter-finals.
This effort foreshadowed the speed and ease with which Alcaraz would adapt to the highest levels of the sport. This spring, he picked up four tournament titles in four months, including major prizes at the Miami Open and the Madrid Open where he defeated Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal back to back.
With a new set of expectations, Alcaraz somewhat disappointed at Roland Garros where he lost a quarter-final to Alexander Zverev. He lost in the round of 16 at Wimbledon to 21-year-old Jannik Sinner, against whom Alcaraz turned the tide in New York in an epic quarter-final lasting 5 hours and 15 minutes.
For Ruud, 23, who will drop to No. 2 in the standings, it was his second Grand Slam final defeat of the year. He had made the Roland-Garros final this spring to fall on Nadal, who beat him there in straight sets.