No matter the result at Flushing Meadows on Sunday night the world of tennis was going to be exposed to a new Grand Slam winner, but in Carlos Alcaraz’s victory at the US Open the sport might have uncovered its next superstar.
While the world basks in the ability to say they lived through the era of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the foundations are being set by a number of youngsters to become the next great – and Alcaraz is one of those.
Beating Norwegian Casper Ruud 6-4 2-6 7-6 6-3 with the world No1 spot on the line, 19-year-old Alcaraz continued his fine season with yet another win – and his first Slam.
Victories in Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Madrid and Miami – as well as a semi-final at Indian Wells and a final in Hamburg – set up the teen, dubbed the Prince of Clay in a nod to compatriot Nadal, for a win on the hard surfaces of New York.
And despite his form, 51 wins and just nine losses this year, he flew relatively under the radar through the pre-tournament hype and performed on the biggest stage.
His reward? An inaugural Grand Slam trophy and the title of the youngest ever men’s world No1. He is also the first teenager to top the ATP rankings, which have been opened up by Novak Djokovic’s enforced absence from the US and Australian Opens.
The Spaniard, unbelievably, played every single match at the US Open on the main Arthur Ashe Stadium.
First came Sebastian Baez, then Federico Coria and Jenson Brooksby. Thereafter the 19-year-old beat former champion Marin Cilic in five sets before going the distance with hotly tipped youngster Jannik Sinner and then beating Nadal’s slayer Frances Tiafoe in a deciding set.
Alcaraz walked out onto the show court for the seventh time in two weeks on Sunday to a raucous reception. He may have knocked out the last remaining US male but his cheeky grin and visible nervousness quickly endeared him to the crowd.
And then he went into the zone, and became the youngest men’s Slam winner since Nadal in 2005.
As for Ruud? A second major final defeat of the year and his career. He has a win rate of 65.5 per cent on the ATP Tour and in majors, something he will be hoping to build on in the coming years.
He was on the wrong end of Alcaraz at the Madrid Masters, too, with the Spaniard winning on home soil over the Scandinavian.
With what feels like a completely new era in tennis – underlined by none of the men’s and women’s singles quarter-finalists having won the US Open before the weekend – Alcaraz and Ruud have the opportunity to develop the sport’s next rivalry.
“This is something which I dreamt of since I was a kid, being No1 in the world and a champion of a Grand Slam,” said Alcaraz. “It is something I have worked very hard for. It is really, really special.”
Attention will now turn to this week’s Davis Cup, where Alcaraz heads up a strong team in Group B alongside Canada, Serbia and South Korea.
He’s fit, he’s athletic and there’s a sense of fun around Carlos Alcaraz. And while he may be spending what’s left of his teenage years breaking records, it seems almost certain the big-hitting Spaniard will remain a prominent figure in Grand Slams for years to come.