Carlos Alcaraz made history. The 19-year-old phenom won the US Open, defeating Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 to become the youngest player ever to reach No. 1 in the ATP rankings.
Alcaraz looked less sharp than in previous matches, but that’s likely because he played three consecutive five sets to reach the final match. Still, whenever he plays, it’s like he used video game cheat codes on himself, and Sunday was no exception.
But Roode matched him shot for shot and found ways to beat him hard. This made for some extremely entertaining tennis, perhaps some of the best of the entire tournament, and that’s saying a lot considering the amazing matches we’ve seen over the past two weeks.
The first set was tight, but Alcaraz had it all working. He had the right touch and the right scheme to put Rude in a hole early in the match.
Alcaraz took the first set, but Rudd turned things around in the second set. He began to adapt and find ways to defeat Alcaraz. He iced Alcaraz in two games as he began stringing games together on his way to a second-set victory.
At times in the second set, Alcaraz looked like he was running on fumes. He had spent a lot more energy last week than Rudd. But not like that. Alcaraz wiped the slate clean in the third set. Every time it looked like he might be out, he regrouped and attacked. Rudd took a 4-3 lead and then Alcaraz equalized. Rudd took a 5-4 lead and Alcaraz tied it again. He then fended off two set points from Rudd to level the score at 6-6 and then annihilated him in the tiebreak.
Just one set away from victory, Alcaraz somehow turned on the jets, drawing energy from who knows where. He played every second of every shot and every point. He remained positive and clear and his ability to shake off misses and mistakes was incredible. No matter what happened, he continued to execute his game plan. Even when he was blanked by Rudd to cut the deficit to 5-3, he kept going. A game later, he claimed the title with an incredible serve.
After the final point was scored and his initial celebration ended, Alcaraz began walking up the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium, looking for his team. When he found them, he was engulfed in a huge hug and he proceeded to share a moment with each person in his box.
Alcaraz ushers in a new era of stars
And it doesn’t end there for Alcaraz. He is the youngest to reach a Grand Slam final since Rafael Nadal in 2005 and the youngest to reach a US Open men’s singles final since Pete Sampras in 1990. Coincidentally, Nadal and Sampras won Grand Slam titles at the age of 19 years.
Alcaraz, who won four titles this year (and became the only player to beat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on clay) is part of a new generation of stars emerging as the time of the Big Three draws to a close. That was what the US Open was all about and that final. Alcaraz cemented his status as the most creative, exciting player on the men’s tour. Rudd has emerged as a major threat having appeared in two Grand Slam finals this year. Francis Tiafoe has shown he has what it takes to compete with the game’s top players. Jannik Sinner is creative and accurate, which was on full display during the record-setting epic against Alcaraz in the quarterfinals.
For Alcaraz, it all came together at the US Open. Disappointing defeats at the French Open, where he was beaten by Zverev in the quarterfinals, and Wimbledon, where he was defeated by Sinner in the fourth round, were just memories, a learning experience that helped him get to where he was. A clay-court specialist, he was expected to run the table at Roland Garros, but his early exit raised doubts. Losing him there felt like the story of Alcaraz’s year had taken a wrong turn, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
But no matter what one believes or expects from Alcaraz, he is solely responsible for his story. He creates his own narrative. And in the history that Alcaraz wrote, he didn’t win his first big long delay. He earned it in time. And it looks like there’s a lot more to come.