It wasn’t to be for Casper Ruud in the US Open final as he lost against Carlos Alcaraz, but there were plenty of positives for the Norwegian after the fortnight in New York.
Ruud and Alcaraz went head-to-head not only for the US Open title on Sunday, but also the world No 1 ranking and it was the Spaniard who was the last man standing as he won in four sets.
Ruud climbed to a career-best No 2 on the back of his second Grand Slam runners-up finish and he was full of praise for his rival while he feels he now has something to chase in the rankings.
“He’s riding that wave. At the moment he’s the best player in the world in my eyes. He deserves that spot,” the Norwegian said of Alcaraz. “I’m happy that we played each other in the final and that we played for the title and the world No 1 spot.
“I think it’s deserving that after great results, both of us having good results throughout the year, we are 1 and 2 in the rankings.
“I’m very proud of being No 2. In a way it’s a good thing because I can still chase the last spot. There’s only one more spot to conquer, but it will be tough for sure (smiling).”
The 23-year-old lost against Rafael Nadal in the final at Roland Garros earlier this year and it was a little easier not having to face his “biggest idol” on Sunday, but nerves still played a part.
He lost the opening set against Alcaraz and then mounted a comeback in the second set, but eventually went down 6–4, 2–6, 7–6(7–1), 6–3.
“It was nerves, but I still thought I was the underdog in a way because of Carlos, he’s on paper higher ranking and all these things. But it was more fun for me,” he said.
“I didn’t need to play the biggest idol of my life on the biggest match of my life. It was sort of easier for me to believe that I could win. As I said in the beginning, it was a lot of fun, exchanges and rallies. I was able to win a couple of those. It was better atmosphere. I think also hopefully a more fun match to watch for the crowd.
“The crowd there in New York have been amazing. They treat all the players well. Even though I lost, I still felt like a champion during these two weeks. Still do in a way.”
Alcaraz, of course, has been in the form of his life this year as he won four titles – including two ATP Masters 1000 tournaments – ahead of the US Open.
Many believe he will win multiple Grand Slams and Ruud highlighted some of the 19-year-old’s strengths.
“It’s like when someone asks about player’s biggest weapon, for instance, you tend to think forehand, backhand, serve, whatever it is,” he said. “But sort of his movement is one of his many weapons, of course. It makes us other players feel like you need to paint the lines sort of to be able to hit a winner. Sometimes even that’s not enough.
“He’s very fast. He’s very quick. He’s a great mover. He can get to balls that we’ve probably never seen before.
“But you have other great movers, as well. I mean, this game has become so physically demanding, and all the players in the top of the world, they do the right things to improve always.
“Speed, agility of the players I think are just improving, improving. The physical aspect has been not changed but it has improved by everyone.
“I think Novak [Djokovic] and Rafa and also [Roger] Federer, I think they kind of set the bar on how well you can move out there. Rafa, when he was Carlos’ age, he was also similar. He tracked down everything. Almost no one could hit a winner on him. Novak the same with his flexibility. He gets to certain shots that you think, How is that even possible?
“Carlos has sort of a mixture of both. He’s fast, flexible. He can slide around. It’s impressive.
“Yeah, he’s a hard nut to crack.”
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