19-yr-old Alcaraz wins US Open, becomes youngest World No. 1

Published on Sep 12, 2022 10:13 PM IST

In May, days before the start of the French Open, Carlos Alcaraz — he had turned 19 at the beginning of the month — listed his goal for the remainder of the season: winning one of the three remaining Grand Slams.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain celebrates winning the third set tiebreak against Casper Ruud of Norway during their Men’s Singles Final match on Day Fourteen of the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 11, 2022 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (AFP)
Carlos Alcaraz of Spain celebrates winning the third set tiebreak against Casper Ruud of Norway during their Men’s Singles Final match on Day Fourteen of the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 11, 2022 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (AFP)
ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai

In May, days before the start of the French Open, Carlos Alcaraz — he had turned 19 at the beginning of the month — listed his goal for the remainder of the season: winning one of the three remaining Grand Slams.

Audacious, you’d think, even for someone coming fresh off celebrating his 19th birthday by beating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on consecutive days for an ATP Masters title in Madrid and breaking into the top 10 of the world rankings.

The Spaniard, though, has been a man — fine, wunderkind — of big dreams and words and bigger potential.

The next big thing in tennis? Perhaps it’s time to erase the question mark now.

Backing up his lofty target with sublime tennis in the year-ending Slam, Alcaraz lifted the US Open title, beating Norwegian Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 in the final to kick off his Slam count. The title catapulted the teen from world No 4 to the new world No 1, making him the youngest ever to top the ATP rankings. He is also the youngest male Grand Slam champion since Nadal (also 19) at the 2005 French Open.

Parallels with his fellow Spaniard, senior by 17 years and 21 Slams, have been a constant through Alcaraz’s age-defying exploits this year. And his latest deed under the Sunday night New York skyline got even the 36-year-old up and tweeting barely minutes after the final ended. Writing in Spanish, Nadal congratulated Alcaraz for his No 1 Slam, No 1 ranking and the “culmination of your first great season, (of) which I am sure will be many more.”

There is little doubt of that. In just his second full season competing on the ATP tour and playing the Slams, Alcaraz has done things even members of the Big Three — the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) standard of men’s tennis comprising Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer — did not at his age and experience. Indeed, he is one of only 16 men outside the Big Three to win a Grand Slam in the past two decades; one of only six to do so in the past decade; and one of only three to do so in the past five years.

Making his Slam debut in 1999, Federer took four years to wrap his hands around a first Major at the 2003 Wimbledon. Nadal won in Paris aged 19, two seasons after he had competed in his first Slam in 2003, while Djokovic took four attempts in Melbourne to lift his maiden title at the Australian Open in 2008. Alcaraz has dived into the Slam success sea in just his eighth main draw appearance, an incredible leap from losing the first round of qualifiers at the 2020 French Open two years ago.

That’s beside the other Big Three-matching and -bettering records he has started accumulating, like being the quickest to tot up 50 match wins on the ATP tour, clinch six ATP titles while still in his teens and, of course, zoom to becoming the world’s top-ranked player.

“Of course, I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to achieve what they (Big Three) have done in tennis. We’re talking about 22 Grand Slams. He has only one,” Juan Carlos Ferrero, the Spanish former world No 1 and Alcaraz’s coach said. “It is a long way still to go. But who knows? I think he has all the tennis and potential to be one of the best.”

Sure, there are facets of his play to be worked on, like the serve. But that was the case with even, say, Nadal — developing an all-court game — and Djokovic — the fitness to last five sets — when they were 19.

Alcaraz possesses qualities that belie his age, which came across dazzlingly at this US Open: an all-round game, the strength in his body to sustain the level for over three hours in the final after three straight five-setters, and a temperament that seldom boils over even in the heat of the battle.

“Carlitos is so mature off the court and on the court. He is unreal in his attitude,” Mats Wilander, former Swedish top-ranked pro, told Eurosport. “He is not going anywhere for the next 10 years.”

That’s a long time in professional tennis. Talents have come and gone and teen prodigies have sparked and faded. Alcaraz, however, looks set for the long haul.

“Right now I’m enjoying the moment,” he said of his US Open win. “But, of course, I’m hungry for more. I want to be in the top for many, many weeks. I hope many years.”

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