It felt like a new era in tennis as Carlos Alcaraz won his first US Open title, but this historic victory may have meant so much more for the future of the sport.
While the plaudits will flow in the direction of the 19-year-old Spaniard who also become world No 1 after his beautifully vicious four-set demolition of Norway’s Casper Ruud in front of a captivated Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, this was a night that change the narrative in tennis for good.
Alcaraz and Ruud went into the match with both bidding for a first Slam title and to top of the rankings, and it was the Spanish teenager who came out on top, winning 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 much to the delight of the jubilant spectators.
The 19-year-old is more than a year younger than Lleyton Hewitt was when he topped the standings in 2001 and the manner of his run in New York ensured this title win will be remembered for years to come.
After a trio of draining five-set wins in the previous three rounds, Alcaraz summoned up the energy for one last push in a match that confirmed we don’t need Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in a final to captivate a huge audience.
New York has always cherished its stars and they have never come bigger than the three names mentioned in the previous sentence, yet this US Open confirmed that the sport is ready to embrace new heroes to compete alongside the aging champions who have transcended the sport for two decades.
Jannik Sinner, Frances Tiafoe and Nick Kyrgios contributed so much to a US Open that enthralled all who witnessed it from the first day to the last, with Alcaraz and Ruud serving up a final that befitted a remarkable tournament.
“This is something I have dreamt of since I was a kid, to be number one in the world, to be a champion of a Grand Slam,” said Alcaraz.
“I always said there was no time to be tired in the final run of a tournament.
“You have to give everything on court, everything you have inside. It is something I have worked really hard for and it is not time to be tired.
“It is tough to talk right now. There are a lot of emotions right now. It is something I have tried to achieve. All the hard work I have done. I am just 19 years old so the top decisions are with my team and my parents. It is really special for me.
“My Mum is not here, and my Grandfather. I was thinking about them. A lot of my family are here but there are a lot of people from my family that couldn’t come here to watch the final and I was thinking of them.”
Ruud didn’t try to hide his despair as he reflected on a second defeat in a major final after his French Open loss against Rafael Nadal in June, as he vowed to try again next year to win his first major.
“Today was a special evening for both Carlos and I,” declared the 23-year-old. “We knew what was at stake, and I think it’s fitting both finalists will be number one and number two in the world. I’m happy with that number and I will continue to chase that ranking and my first Grand Slam.
“I owe everything to my family and they’ve been caring, helpful, thoughtful in all my career. They are the reason I am able to be here today and I hope we can continue to be a strong team in the future.”
It would be easy to get carried away with the significance of a teenager winning the US Open and Alcaraz’s dynamism on the court is captivating to behold, but this might not be the moment when tennis waves farewell to its greatest champions.
Instead, Alcaraz’s rise to the top of the ATP Rankings may be evidence that Nadal and Djokovic finally have a rival who can take them on when the biggest prizes in the game are up for grabs.
This is the kid that beat Rafa and Novak at the Madrid Masters earlier this year, but that was over the best of three-set format.
Now we wait to discover whether he can outlast the icons of the sport in the longer five-set Grand Slam format, with former world No 1 Jim Courier sounding notes of caution for those suggesting we are entering the Alcaraz era.
“We are the start of a very long run where is part of the discussion in the big events, but he will not be alone,” Courier told Amazon Prime.
“I do think Djokovic is going get back into gear when he is allowed to play and we hear he will be allowed into Australia to play in January.
“What we can say is Alcaraz will be in the game with the big dogs in the majors and he proved that in this match.
“He is thrilling to watch. His shot-making is incredible and he brings in the crowds. To win this major and become the youngest No 1 ever in the history of tennis bodes well for the future of the game.”
Former British No 1 Greg Rusedski suggested Alcaraz would “almost certainly” win 10 or more Grand Slam titles and could join Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the 20-Slam club before his career is finished.
Djokovic against Alcaraz at the Australian Open in January will be a box office event and the next time the new world No 1 takes on his idol Nadal, the sporting world will be watching.
At this point, we can’t yet say what Alcaraz can do in the sport, but we can say he is now in the discussion alongside Nadal and Djokovic when we assess who is the favourite to win the major titles in 2023.
That alone is great news for a sport that has been dominated by three untouchable giants for so long.
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