It was a night of firsts for Carlos Alcaraz as the young Spaniard vaulted into the top spot in the men’s ATP tour rankings after defeating Casper Ruud 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 to win his first-ever Grand Slam title and become the youngest men’s Grand Slam champion ever.
The match was relatively nondescript by Alcaraz’s standards. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t entertaining or didn’t contain tremendous tennis but simply that he didn’t have to play four-plus hours to secure the win. Just a modest three hours and twenty minutes.
However, despite not quite matching the three straight five-set thrillers, against Marin Cilic, Jannik Sinner, and Frances Tiafoe, this was anything but a straightforward victory for the 19-year-old who got everything he could handle from Ruud.
There were times were Alcaraz almost seemed rattled. He hit 41 unforced errors to just 29 from Ruud. He double-faulted three times. Only, those brief moments didn’t last long enough to derail him in the end.
The match started with Alcaraz almost breaking Ruud on the Norwegian’s first service game, forcing three deuces in a seven-minute game to start the match. He then succeeded in earning the break the next time Ruud served, taking a 3-1 lead that he would hold as both men traded service wins in the first set.
While Casper Ruud played impressive tennis, covering the court well and exchanging some powerful groundstrokes with Alcaraz, it was the young Spaniard who dictated the pace of the match early on.
As he has for all of the 2022 US Open, Alcaraz was on the attack. He ripped groundstrokes with the intent to win rallies, not extend them, and he flew around the court as if he was Roy Kent in “Ted Lasso.”
“He’s here, he’s there, he’s every f-ing where Al-ca-raz, Al-ca-raz.”
In the first set, his aggressive approach led to 13 winners and 12 unforced errors, while Ruud had just six winners. Alcaraz also blasted three aces to none from Ruud, and won nine of 11 points at the net, pushing the pace against Ruud from the outset.
With the crowd loudly backing Alcaraz. Ruud didn’t flinch. He had just as much on the line as Alcaraz, hoping to claim his first Grand Slam title and the number one ranking in the world, both of which would have been his if he had won. He wasn’t giving up either of those without a fight.
In the second set, it was the Norwegian who was getting to impossible shots, breaking Alcaraz to take a 4-2 lead on a point that he had no business winning.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2022
Alcaraz confusingly started hitting more drop shots, almost as if he was afraid that Ruud was figuring out how to track down his groundstrokes. But as Alcaraz tried to play with more finesse, even on the final point of the set, Ruud took advantage. He hit ten winners in the second set and found his first serve, limiting the opportunities he gave Alcaraz to get back into the set as he cruised to a 6-2 win.
The lull for Alcaraz seemed short-lived when he broke Ruud to start the second set and then won his service game easily to take a 2-0 lead before fans could blink. However, after Ruud battled to hold serve, Alcaraz made three unforced errors en route to dropping his own service match and getting his opponent right back in the match.
It was a prime example of the way a match filled with so much youth and emotion led to some tight points. After two weeks of grinding, it had all come to this. A 24-year-old and a 19-year-old were playing in the most important match of their lives. They were both trying to do something they had never done before.
“Both Carlos and I knew what we were playing for. We knew what was at stake,” said Ruud after the match.
At times, it showed.
With Alcaraz serving down 6-5, he fended off one set point at 30-40. The Spaniard then had three chances to win the game serving with an advantage, but each time, Ruud battled his way back to even it at deuce. It took a tremendous point with multiple back-and-forth shots at the net before Alcaraz could claim the game and force a third-set tiebreaker.
Two nights after dropping both tiebreakers to Frances Tiafoe in the semi-finals, Alcaraz left no chance for anything similar to happen, cruising to a 7-1 victory in the tiebreaker to go up two sets to one.
In the end, Alcaaraz’s talent shone through above his nerves.
In the fifth game of the fourth set, Rudd simply made one too many errors, hitting an unforced error on his backend to give Alcaraz a break and an edge that he would not relinquish.
Chants of “Que viva España!” started to break out amongst the crowd, and Alcaraz would hold to go up 5-2 and take a firm hold on the US Open Men’s Championship.
“A lot of people traveled from Spain and around the world to support me,” Alcaraz said on court after the match. “The support I received from round one of the tournament was incredible.”
However, even in the final game, the nerves started to creep their way in. Up 30-0, Alcaraz lined up an easy overhead smash to set up three match points. But he hit it into the net.
Alcaraz would rally, like any good champion, and hit an ace on his next serve. Then he smashed a forehand long on his first match point. He is only just a teenager after all, and nothing was easy for him over these last few matches, but at the end of the night, he emerged as a champion and the number one player in the world.
“This is something I’ve dreamt of ever since I was a kid. To be number one in the world. To be a Grand Slam champion,” he said. “It’s tough to talk right now. A lot of emotions.”
It’s OK because, for three weeks, he let his tennis do the talking. Now we have a new number one player in the world and are potentially looking at a reign atop the rankings that could last for a very long time.
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