Carlos Alcaraz made history on American soil Sunday, becoming the youngest No. 1 in the ATP rankings history after claiming his maiden career major title at the U.S. Open, beating Casper Ruud in the final.
“Pressure is a privilege,” said Billie Jean King, and there was plenty on Sunday at the Arthur Ashe Stadium when Casper Ruud and Carlos Alcaraz stepped foot into the court to play the U.S. Open championship match.
Both players were in contention not just for a chance to win their maiden Grand Slam title but also to make their debut at the top of the men’s rankings.
A packed stadium witnessed a high-quality tennis match between two gifted players, one to the history books.
The men’s singles final saw Alcaraz prevailing over Ruud in a spectacular four-setter after three hours and 20 minutes.
The Spaniard raised to the occasion, having spent over 23 hours on court across the tournament to seal a 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 triumph.
The first-time grand slam champion is leaving his mark in tennis history at the young age of 19, the youngest player to become the new top-ranked man in the world.
During the trophy ceremony, he said: “It is something I have dreamt of since I was a kid. To be No. 1 in the world, to be champion of a Grand Slam, is something I have worked really, really hard [for].”
Adding: “It is tough to talk right now. I have lots of emotions. All the hard work I have done with my team and my family. I am just 19 years old. It is something that is really special for me.”
In their third meeting at tour level, Alcaraz made a fast start to the opener, breaking first to take the early lead 2-1, which will prove crucial with Ruud trying but failing to narrow the gap.
The Spanish player wrapped up the first set 6-4 in 49 minutes, winning 75 percent of the first serve points compared to his opponent’s 67 percent.
In addition, he hit 13 winners, committing 12 unforced errors to six and seven from the Norwegian.
Under pressure, the Oslo native, competing in his second major final, saved a break point to hold a 3-2 advantage in the second set.
Maximizing his opportunities, the 23-year-old held his nerve, breaking his rival twice to come back from a set down and pull level by winning the first-ever set against Alcaraz 6-2 in 40 minutes.
Despite showing frustration, the teenager, playing his first major’s final, quickly found his way back into the match, breaking in the first game of the third set, holding to stay ahead 2-0.
However, the third seed had 23 unforced errors under his name at the time, erratically playing drop shots he usually masters.
Meanwhile, the 9-time ATP titlist stepped up as the better, faster player on court at that moment, showcasing a solid game.
As a result, Ruud came back from a break down, dictating play to even the score 2-2, charging at the net with accuracy, jumping ahead 3-2.
El Palmar-born player was noticeably less explosive than usual, for all the right reasons.
The battles he fought on his way to achieving the ultimate stage in the competition against some of the best players in the world were challenging, sometimes pushing him to the verge of defeat.
The proof is the three consecutive five-setters matchups the major’s second teenager finalist in the Open Era played at Flushing Meadows.
His quarterfinal clash against Jannik Sinner, in particular, turned out to be the second longest match in the history of the U.S. Open, ending at 2:50 a.m. (local time), the event’s latest ever finish.
In that regard, the Spaniard commented: “There is no time to be tired in the final rounds of a Grand Slam…You have to be ready and give everything you have inside. It is something I work really hard for.”
And indeed, his fighting spirit brought him back into play, as it seemed there was some energy left in the tank after all, and he ran all court when the fifth seed challenged him in a fantastic rally, showing signs the third set was far from over.
Both went on the distance, playing ridiculous shots at the net in a duel for the ages.
A thrilling, high-quality 12th game, lasting over 10 minutes, saw Alcaraz saving two set points with volley winners to force a tiebreak, which he controlled 7-1, taking a two-set to one lead.
At this point, he was one step closer to living the biggest moment in his young tennis career.
The fourth set remained tight and tense at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The clock marked the 3-hour mark was already behind them while Alcaraz hit three aces in a row to produce an easy hold and steal a 3-2 lead.
The French Open runner-up let pivotal chances slip, allowing the Rio Open champion to break, extending his advantage to 4-2, serving better.
The first-ever Norwegian man to make it into the U.S. Open continued to make mistakes he could not afford against such a dangerous adversary.
Not surprisingly, Alcaraz placed himself one set away from conquering it all.
He marched to round up the set 6-3 and the match, becoming the first man to win the American major’s title in his second appearance since 1948.
Overall he hit 14 aces, recording three double faults, winning 74 (62/75) percent of his first-serve points to Christian Ruud’s pupil 66 (47/71) percent.
Furthermore, he struck 55 winners and 41 unforced errors to Ruud’s 37 and 29, respectively.
The Players Journey in New York
Ruud advanced to the final by overcoming 27th seed Karen Khachanov in four sets Friday.
En route to the championship match, he moved past Briton Kyle Edmund, Libema Open champion Tim van Rijthoven, 29th seed Tommy Paul, French lucky loser Corentin Moutet, 13th seed Matteo Berrettini and Khachanov.
Alcaraz, for his part, secured his spot in Sunday’s final by prevailing over American Frances Tiafoe, winning his third consecutive five-setter match.
On Monday, September 12, the world will awake with “Carlitos” as the brand new World No. 1 and Ruud behind him, reaching his high-career ranking at World No. 2.
For the third consecutive year, the U.S. Open crowns a new champion, who adds his name to a select list, including big names of the sport.
“Things have been going so well. Today was a special evening,” Ruud outlined after the match. “Carlos and I knew what we were playing for and what was at stake. We will be No. 2 and No. 1 tomorrow; I think it is fitting.”
“I am disappointed, of course, I am not No. 1, but No. 2 is not bad either. I am happy with that number, and I will continue to chase my first Grand Slam title and No. 1 ranking.”
During his post-match press conference, he stressed: “I played some phenomenal tennis throughout the two weeks, probably my best tennis ever on this surface. I’m very happy in the end. We’ll hopefully get another chance at a slam in the future.”
Tennis is in the good hands of a generation that went from a promise to reality, giving lessons on sportsmanship and shining bright in the world’s most iconic scenarios.