Flushing Meadows hails a new champion: Carlos Alcaraz

We have a new tennis world number one and US Open champion: the 19-year-old Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz.

His win in four sets over the quietly understated Norwegian, Casper Ruud, was one hell of a feat — especially considering the number of playing hours the Spaniard had put in over the course of the tournament. He played no fewer than three consecutive five-set matches in the lead-up to the final. He may be just 19, but that is still some serious staying power. Ruud, meanwhile, moves into 2nd place in the rankings, also leapfrogging Nadal, Medvedev and Djokovic.

The Spaniard’s sensational quarter-final exhibition against the 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, in which he saved a match point, had to be one of the most dramatic and high-level contests of the year. Slugging ground strokes, many reaching speeds of 100 plus mph, balls mostly landing millimetres inside the lines, along with near-impossible retrieving was a jaw-dropping spectacle. This is surely the start of an exciting future rivalry.

Alcaraz is known, not just for his blistering groundstrokes, but also for his brilliantly disguised dropshots. The opponent frequently finds himself pinned way behind the baseline to cope with the sheer power of balls coming at him, which allows the Spaniard to quickly change grip and to feather that beautiful forehand killer drop. However, Sinner, whippet-fast and slight of build, sprinted to them with ease, so Alcaraz had to change tack, which he managed beautifully. Not just his tennis, but his tactical nous is mature beyond his years.

The match lasted over five hours and finally ended at almost 3.00 am in a still-packed stadium. With all the post-match press commitments, Carlos apparently didn’t get to bed until 6.00 am. He probably didn’t sleep for some time after, no doubt still pumped with adrenaline. It’s a uniquely US Open scenario for play to continue into the small hours, something which has commentators moaning year after year.

It doesn’t make sense for either the players or spectators, but the tournament organisers haven’t come up with any sensible explanation as to why they let this happen. Yet that’s another aspect of the challenge with which the Spaniard also dealt so well.

Carlos Alcaraz is the whole package. The power, control and disguise comes alongside huge charisma and the ability to work the crowd, something which the New Yorkers lapped up.

His semi-final match against the young American, Frances Tiafoe, was the one in which he was not, for a change, the crowd darling — but he still made it through in his third five-setter to reach the final.

There was a point in that match when Alcaraz looked ready to explode with frustration and he looked imploringly towards his coach, Juan Carlos Ferraro, also a former world number one. Instead of fist-pumping and hyping his player up, he simply put a finger to his lips to indicate “shush, calm down”. It was a wonderfully powerful yet simple gesture. And it worked a treat.

So: are Alcaraz, Ruud, Sinner and Tiafoe now the Next Gen? Will they power through the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, who must be shaking in their tennis shoes at the thought of taking on these youngsters? The latter are probably also more than a bit peeved, since they were the ones supposedly taking over from the big three: Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. The two young Canadians, 22-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime and 23-year-old  Denis Shapovalov, may also now be out of the picture.

These are four explosive, talented and, above all, likeable and sporting characters. Yes, the older star Nick Kyrgios seems to have got his act together, raising his tennis level to new heights this year. But it’s been a relief at the US Open to witness not just great tennis but also the fair play and sheer decency of the younger  four in comparison to the Aussie’s foulmouthed tirades.

The Australian Open in January is going to be fascinating. It’s understood that Covid rules will be relaxed before then, so Djokovic will be allowed to play despite remaining unvaccinated – he was, of course, barred from playing there this year for that very reason. The US currently doesn’t allow unvaccinated foreigners into the country, so Djokovic was out of the running at this year’s Open. He has now dropped to world number seven in the rankings. This is also as a result of missing the American hardcourt events and, despite winning Wimbledon, earning no ranking points at The All England Club due to the decision of the tennis authorities to block points in retaliation for Wimbledon banning Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament.

I’m probably not the only fan salivating at the thought of a Djokovic vs Alcaraz encounter in Australia. The Serbian player may have won the tournament in Melbourne a record nine times but my money would now be on the Spaniard.

It would appear that we are finally no longer dependent on the Nadal, Djokovic, Federer “big three” for sheer excitement and entertainment.

There had been fears that public interest in the game would take a dive when those three retired, but that no longer seems to be the case. These are exciting times in the men’s game.


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