A potentially legendary career in men’s tennis reached a significant milestone on Sunday as Carlos Alcaraz of Spain won his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open, beating Norway’s Casper Ruud 6-4 2-6 7-6 6-6. 3 defeated.
Alcaraz, who turned 19 in May, has been the subject of outsized expectations and breathless predictions of greatness since his early teens. But it would have been difficult for even his most ardent believers to imagine just how quickly he’s risen to the top of the game.
After finishing 141st at the start of the 2021 season, Alcaraz has become the first teenage boy to ever reach world No. 1 by winning the US Open. He is also the youngest man to win his first Grand Slam title since Rafael Nadal made it at the 2005 French Open just before his 19th birthday.
“This is crazy about me,” said Alcaraz. “I never thought I would achieve something like this when I was 19, so it all came so quickly and for me it’s incredible. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, ever since I started playing tennis to play. To lift this trophy today is amazing for me.”
And he did it the hard way, battling through three consecutive five-set matches before a tough final against an opponent who brought plenty of quality to the table, forcing Alcaraz to play his best tennis despite suffering with obviously tired ones legs played.
Alcaraz’s total of 23 hours and 39 minutes on court is the longest time a player has ever been on court at a Major, surpassing Kevin Anderson’s 23 hours and 20 minutes during a run to the 2018 Wimbledon final.
That workload may eventually have caught up with a lesser player. But Alcaraz, on top of his superior physical ability, showed remarkable mental acuity and tactical brilliance during the final to control his body and capitalize on the biggest moments.
“He’s one of those few rare talents that pops up in the sport every now and then,” said Ruud. “So it looks. Let’s see how his career develops, but everything is going in the right direction.”
After Alcaraz’ energy waned about an hour into the match and helped a fresher looking Ruud secure a 6-2 win in the second set, Alcaraz seemed to regain control as he got an early break of serve in the third set and had one Opportunity to double break up. Instead, with Ruud playing solid tennis himself and refusing to give away points with sloppy errors, Alcaraz found himself back at serve at 5-6 and faced two break points to keep the set alive.
He saved both by attacking the net and tucking away volleys, and showed the all-court game that separated him from numerous young players who have been struggling to break through in the Grand Slams.
“I think he was born to play these types of tournaments, born to play these types of matches,” said Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open winner who now coaches Alcaraz. “Since I started with him I’ve seen some things that were different from other guys his age. I still see it on the pitch. He always tries to leave at important moments. He’s a great competitor.”
After that key serve, Alcaraz dominated the tiebreaker and took him a set away from victory. In the fourth set, both players held until it was 2-3 when Alcaraz’s stunning speed and coverage combined with massive forehands finally created a break of serve to push him closer to the finish line.
Alcaraz, serving for the match, missed a simple overhead that would have given him a 40-0 lead. But he immediately responded with an ace down the middle to gain some breathing room, then finished the title at 40-30 with a heavy wide serve that Ruud couldn’t get his racquet on.
Although much of the tennis world has known about Alcaraz’s tremendous talent for some time, he hadn’t produced any game-changing results until last year’s US Open, when he upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round and made it to the quarterfinals.
These efforts foreshadowed how quickly and easily Alcaraz would adapt to the highest levels of the sport. That spring, he racked up four tournament titles in four months, including major prizes at the Miami Open and Madrid Open, where he defeated back-to-back Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
With new expectations, Alcaraz disappointed somewhat at the French Open, where he lost a quarterfinal to Alexander Zverev. He lost in the Wimbledon round of 16 to 21-year-old Jannik Sinner, whom Alcaraz turned the tables on in New York in an epic quarter-final lasting 5 hours and 15 minutes.
For 23-year-old Ruud, who will move up to second place in the rankings, it was his second Grand Slam final defeat this year. He had made it to the final of the French Open that spring only to meet Nadal, who beat him in straight sets there.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carlos Alcaraz wins his first Grand Slam title with a US Open victory