As Carlos Alcaraz collapsed on the blue court of Arthur Ashe Stadium, it felt like the start of a new era for men’s tennis.
The 19-year-old had become the youngest world No1 in the history of the men’s game and the youngest US Open champion since Pete Sampras’ own announcement on the world stage in 1990.
Sampras would go on to win 14 Grand Slam titles. After only his first, Alcaraz’s coach Juan Carlos Ferrero was already joking about a possible 30 for his charge.
New York has a propensity to act as the backdrop for teenage stars to emerge. It was here a year ago that the Spaniard made the quarter-finals and Emma Raducanu defied all expectations to win the title.
While that shock was seismic, an Alcaraz Grand Slam title was only ever a matter of when. Instead, the conversation surrounding him has been about how many majors he can win.
Of his own future on the tennis’ biggest stage, he said: “Right now, I’m enjoying the moment, I’m enjoying having the trophy in my hands but, of course, I’m hungry for more.
“I want to be in the top for many, many weeks and I hope many years. I’m going to work hard again after this week, these amazing two weeks. I’m going to fight to have more of this.”
There was no end of fight. In truth, the final seemed easier than some of his matches in the lead-up as he beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3.
No player had spent more time on court in a single Grand Slam, Alcaraz clocking up 23 hours and 40 minutes altogether. He had spent in excess of 13 hours on court for his preceding three matches, which were all five-setters and in which he recovered from a match point down in his quarter-final against Jannik Sinner to somehow find a way to win.
Inevitably, it drew further comparisons to his countryman Rafael Nadal: both Grand Slam winners at the age of 19, both with similar fighting qualities as well as being immediate fan favourites.
Nadal was among the first to congratulate him on social media saying he expected there “would be many more” Grand Slam titles. But he has always swatted away any comparisons.
His uncle and long-time coach Toni Nadal, however, said: “Carlos’ intensity and speed is something you rarely see. His game follows the same path as Rafa – he never gives up until the last ball and has that characteristic intensity.”
Alcaraz had endured a difficult build-up to New York. He lost in the first round of the Canadian Open and was then knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the Cincinnati Masters. He blamed it on not playing with a smile, which seems to have omnipresent throughout the past fortnight at the US Open.
As for a maiden Grand Slam title, he first believed it was possible when winning the Miami Open in April. But after a dip in form in recent weeks, he said: “I came here just to enjoy, to smile on court, to enjoy playing tennis. If I have fun, I saw my best level, my best tennis.”
For Ruud, it was the second time as a beaten Grand Slam finalist this year having lost to Nadal in the French Open. Asked for the secret to breaking his majors duck, he joked simply that it was to avoid a Spaniard in the draw.
But the Norwegian, who would have replaced Daniil Medvedev as world No1 had he won the final graciously said: “At the moment, Carlos is the best player in the world.”
Ominously for Ruud and his peers, Ferrero said that Alcaraz, who he likened to spaghetti he was so thin when he first started working with him as a 15-year-old, was far from the finished article.
“I think he’s on 60% of his game,” he said. “He can improve a lot of things. He knows and I know that we have to keep working. Once to get to No1, it’s not done and you go. You have to keep working, he knows that.”