Spanish tennis player Carlos Alcaraz made history on Sunday with his win over Casper Ruud at the US Open final. The 19-year-old claimed his first Grand Slam title, defeating the Norwegian player 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 and taking the world number one ranking. Alcaraz is now the youngest player to hold the top ranking in history, unseating Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, who became world number one in 2001, when he was 20 years old. He is also the youngest Grand Slam champion since his fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2005. “I’m ready to win a Grand Slam this year,” Alcaraz told EL PAÍS in April. On Sunday, he proved this to be true.
After winning match point, Alcaraz climbed past photographers and into the stands to give his father and his team a big hug. “This is something I dreamed of since I was a kid, to be number one in the world, to be the champion at a Grand Slam,” he later said in an on-court interview.
Alcaraz showed on Sunday that he is at the level of the so-called “Big Three” – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. This could mark a before and after in the world of tennis, in which these giants have reigned supreme. Alcaraz plays a different kind of tennis. It had been a long time since a player has come on to the court with such force or so much decision. He has already defeated Nadal and Djokovic, and the US Open has revealed a new side to Alcaraz: he knows how to suffer.
The Spaniard started off strong and won the first set, but Ruud continued to push back, firing back shots that put the 19-year-old off center. No point was given away. While Alcaraz was the fan favorite, the Norwegian was not to be underestimated. Under the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium – it was raining in New York – Ruud used his strong forehand to fight back. In a race towards the net, Alcaraz missed the ball and threw his racket into the net. Opposite, Ruud, 23, was firing back balls like a machine. Alcaraz’s coach, former number one Juan Carlos Ferrero, looked concerned. He told the 19-year-old: “Charlie, convince yourself that you have to go for the game!” “Remain positive at all times!” “Let’s get hard on the first three balls!” Alcaraz dove deep and made his comeback.
Throughout the US Open, Alcaraz has shown he is able to turn games around with his determination and strength. He drew match point against Italy’s Jannik Sinner in the quarters; he battled from a break down in the fifth set to beat Marin Cilic in the fourth round; and came from behind to defeat Frances Tiafoe in the semifinals. Against Ruud, he showed the same force.
In the final game of the third set, Alcaraz saved two set points by sprinting to the net. Fans jumped from their seats when he smashed an overhead to force a tiebreak. The psychological impact on Ruud, who had missed two opportunities to win the game, was devastating. Even still, he did not let up. But he struggled to make returns, while Alcaraz wore down the player with aces. After three hours and 20 minutes, the Spaniard was the Grand Slam champion, just as he predicted he would be.