US Open: New world number one Carlos Alcaraz seals first Grand Slam title with thrilling win over Casper Ruud

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Top of the world: Carlos Alcaraz won his first Grand Slam title with victory in the US Open final  (USA TODAY Sports)
Top of the world: Carlos Alcaraz won his first Grand Slam title with victory in the US Open final (USA TODAY Sports)

Carlos Alcaraz reached the summit of men’s tennis as he beat Casper Ruud in the US Open final to become the new world number one.

A first Grand Slam title and with it top spot in the rankings was on offer for the two players at Flushing Meadows, but it was Alcaraz who took both with an absorbing 6-4 2-6 7-6 6-3 victory. The 19-year-old is the youngest ever men’s number one, while Ruud moves up to second.

Only 16 months ago, Alcaraz was ranked outside the top 100 in the world. Until March this year, when he beat Ruud in the final in Miami, he had not won an ATP Tour tournament on a surface other than clay. He is certainly not the first to be charged with carrying the baton of the men’s game into an era beyond the careers of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but few, if any, have looked more capable of running with it.

Nobody on Arthur Ashe should have been expecting a swift victory either way. New York has been the city not allowed to sleep since Alcaraz’s arrival, his matches over the past fortnight more suited to the insomniacs than the casual tennis fan.

The Spaniard came through three consecutive five-set battles in the second week of the tournament, finally getting past Jannik Sinner in their epic semi-final clash at 2:50am in what was the US Open’s latest ever finish. Ruud was not in a particular rush himself either, just two of the 23-year-old’s six wins to reach the final coming in straight sets.

That the pair had to battle their way to opening holds in the match, both saving two break points on their way to doing so, was therefore no surprise. A combination of nervy shots and sublime athleticism was on show from Alcaraz’s side of the net in the early exchanges, but the teenager tipped the scales in favour of the latter to break in the third game.

The exhibition tennis he had been delighting the New York crowd with all fortnight was already on show by this stage, his array of volleys and drops shots ensuring the final lived up to expectations. Ruud had a chance to break straight back but Alcaraz quickly snatched it away.

Another brief moment of concern on serve for the Spaniard came and went with a wonderful drop volley and a backhand winner that caught the line, as he held to move 5-3 up. Ruud extended the set for another game but Alcaraz had no problems in serving it out, doing so to love as his opponent dumped a backhand return into the net.

He had the opportunity to truly take control of proceedings when he brought up a break point with another backhand winner, set up by superb depth on his groundstrokes. Ruud got himself out of trouble though and it proved a hugely significant moment. A break point of his own came as he ran down an unusually average drop shot from Alcaraz, and that speed was on show again as Ruud came out on top in a thrilling point to capitalise and lead 4-2.

Alcaraz could have broken straight back, but his cry of frustration rang out almost before his unforced error found the net and Ruud brought up the hold with the cleanest of overheads. The Norwegian did not need to serve again, sealing a double break in the following game and with it the second set.

Casper Ruud won four games in a row to take the second set (AFP via Getty Images)
Casper Ruud won four games in a row to take the second set (AFP via Getty Images)

Momentum appeared to with Ruud, but Alcaraz had an immediate response as he brought up three break points in the opening game of the third and while he needed all three, a perfect drop shot got the job done. Another shift came though, Ruud capitalising on a visible drop in intensity to reel off three games in a row and edge 3-2 ahead.

A tie-break looked increasingly likely, but Ruud brought up a set point with a stunning forehand winner down the line. Alcaraz saved it with an equally impressive volley at the net, before a serve and volley kept Ruud at bay a second time. He held for 6-6 with yet another point for the highlight package.

Ruud took the opening point of the tie-break but lost the seven that followed, Alcaraz breezing through it with the help of some untimely backhand shanks and wild forehands from the other side of the net to move to within a set of victory.

Both players looked confident on serve at the start of the fourth set, Alcaraz sending down three consecutive aces on his way to a routine hold and a 3-2 lead. Ruud made a mess of a relatively routine overhead to give Alcaraz a break point in the very next game, following it up with another unforced error as the Spaniard closed in on the title.

Ruud then got to 0-30 to give him hope, but two massive forehand winners and a couple of aces silenced any talk of nerves, moving Alcaraz to within a game at 5-2. The Norwegian held to love, to at least ask the question of whether Alcaraz could serve it out.

A smash sent halfway up the net reminded everyone that this was a 19-year-old in his first Grand Slam final, though Alcaraz put that behind him to bring up two championship points. The first was saved by Ruud, but he could not return a big serve out wide.

Frances Tiafoe, Alcaraz’s semi-final opponent, perhaps put it best: “He’s going to be a problem for a very long time.”