Carlos Alcaraz has the taste for grand slam success after winning his maiden title at the US Open and claiming the world number one ranking.
The 19-year-old defeated Casper Ruud 6-4 2-6 7-6 (1) 6-4 to ensure he pipped his opponent to top spot in the rankings, becoming the youngest man ever to make it to number one.
Alcaraz is more than a year younger than Lleyton Hewitt was when he topped the standings in 2001 and set the previous record.
The Australian’s pre-eminence in the sport proved short-lived as first Roger Federer and then Rafael Nadal ascended to the top of the game, but in the week where King Charles assumed sovereignty, tennis appears to have crowned a new king.
“Right now I’m enjoying the moment,” said Alcaraz. “I’m enjoying having the trophy in my hands.
“But of course I’m hungry for more. I want to be at the top for many, many weeks. I hope many years. I’m going to work hard again after these amazing two weeks. I’m going to fight to have more of this.”
It is only a year since Alcaraz burst into the spotlight by reaching the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows but his talent was already well known within the sport and he has climbed the rankings at warp speed.
He showed that he was ready to win the biggest titles by lifting Masters trophies in Miami and Madrid, where he beat Nadal and Novak Djokovic back to back, and has proved himself to be a complete player despite his tender years.
Alcaraz has also shown remarkable powers of physical endurance, recovering from three successive five-set matches, two of which finished past 2am.
He spent 23 hours and 40 minutes on court during the fortnight, another record, and at times he appeared physically and mentally weary during the final but Ruud, who was heavily beaten by Nadal in his maiden slam final at the French Open, could not find the killer blow.
The Norwegian appeared to have turned the tide in the third set and brought up two set points at 5-6 but Alcaraz bravely came to the net on both occasions to save them.
Ruud then played an awful tie-break and Alcaraz found his second wind to claim victory in the fourth.
“It’s crazy for me,” he said. “I’ve never thought that I was going to achieve something like that at 19 years old. So everything came so fast. It’s something I dream (of) since I was a kid, since I started playing tennis.”
Alcaraz arrived in New York with a few doubts after early losses in the ATP events in Montreal and Cincinnati and he thanked his coach, former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero, and his team for helping to change his mindset.
“In Montreal and in Cincinnati I lost the joy a little bit,” he said. “I felt the pressure. I couldn’t smile on court, which I’m doing in every match, every tournament.
“I came here just to enjoy. To smile on court, to enjoy playing tennis. I love playing tennis, of course. I would say if I smile, if I have fun out there, I play my best level, my best tennis.”
Alcaraz was in tears on his chair after the match, and he revealed he was thinking about his mother and his grandfather, who did not travel to the States.
The teenager uses the mantra ‘brain, heart, courage’, and he said: “These things mean a lot to me because my grandfather told me (them) since I was a kid in every match, in every tournament. This is something that I remember in all the tough moments.”
Ruud climbs to second in the rankings thanks to outstanding consistency, and he was able to take the positives from the best hard-court tournament of his career.
The 23-year-old said: “Of course it’s disappointing in the end that it didn’t go my way. But that’s how it goes.
“Carlos stepped up when he really needed to. Especially in the third set, it was close to go in my favour. I had some set points and I couldn’t take care of them. He just played too good on those points.
“All credit to him. At the same time, I’m proud of the match and the two weeks. I left it all out on the court. Played some phenomenal tennis throughout the two weeks, probably my best tennis ever on this surface. So I’m very happy in the end. We’ll hopefully get another chance at a slam in the future.”
Asked what he needs to do to get his hands on the trophy next time, Ruud said with a smile: “I guess I hope I don’t play a Spanish player. They know what they’re doing in the slam finals.”