Jo be a top athlete, you have to do more than play to your strengths. Sometimes, especially when you’re under pressure, you have to tap into an overlooked part of your game.
Take Carlos Alcaraz, 19. He beat Norway’s Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 on Sunday night at the 2022 US Open to claim his first major championship and become the youngest No.1 in men’s tennis . world player.
The Spaniard is known for his ability to move around the pitch, chase balls, and for the variety and angles of his shots, from drop shots to lobs. Although he has decent serve – you don’t get to the top without one – he is not known for his serve.
But, displaying the true mark of a champion, Alcaraz used his serve to struggle for control of the championship on Sunday night when 23-year-old Ruud put himself in a position to smash Alcaraz late in the game. It was as if the young man was tapping into a hidden power.
Having already broken the record for time spent on court at a US Open – 23 hours and 20 minutes in all his matches – Alcaraz must have been tired. He led 4-3 in the fourth set, but lost 0-30 in the match. After hitting a forehand winner to make it 15-30, Alcaraz deployed a 123 mph ace to the T, then another forehand wide from Ruud, to ride up the game and finally hold. He was now one match away from the title.
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Serving for the championship moments later, he found two more aces, before blasting a service winner at 125mph to end it all. He sprawled on the pitch, before turning around to shed tears of pure joy.
“It’s hard to talk at the moment,” he said in his on-pitch interview after the game. Was he finally exhausted? “A little,” he said, smiling.
Even on a night when her drop shot wasn’t as sharp as in her semi-final win over American Frances Tiafoe on Friday night, Alcaraz emptied it. He and Ruud played several exciting points at net, trying to get balls past each other from close quarters, as if locked in a game of pickleball. Rudd won a few, Alcaraz won a few.
But Alcaraz scored the big ones. After Ruud crushed Alcaraz 6-2 in the second set to tie the match, Alcaraz served to force a tiebreaker in the third set. Dropping that set would have given Ruud all the momentum. Ruud has reached the set point; Alcaraz saved him with a forehand cross near the net. He saved a second set point with an aggressive smash at the net.
Finally, on the 16th point of the game, Alcaraz sends Rudd to jamming. Rudd ran after an Alcaraz lob and kicked the ball between his legs, over the net. But a towering Alcaraz was waiting to blast Rudd’s tower past him. Alcaraz waved both arms in the air to rally the sold-out crowd. Ruud collapsed in the tiebreaker, earning just one point.
Winner Carlos Alcaraz of Spain and runner-up Casper Ruud of Norway with their trophies after the men’s final match at the USTA National Tennis Center on September 11, 2022 in Flushing, Queens, New York.
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
The new world stars of tennis
It was a transitional US Open. With Novak Djokovic out due to his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Rafael Nadal being sent off in the fourth round, Roger Federer still nursing an injury and Serena Williams losing in the third round of what she said will be her final tournament. tennis, we got a glimpse of the future of the sport. There is a lot of talent, from many corners of the globe.
In women’s tennis, 21-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland won two Grand Slam tournaments, the French Open and the US Open, to become a dominant force. She became the first woman since Angelique Kerber in 2016 to win two major tournaments in the same calendar year.
Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, 28, became the first Arab woman and the first African woman to make a Grand Slam final in the open era, as she reached championship matches at Wimbledon and the US Open . She is known as the “Minister of Happiness” in her home country, given her cheerful disposition.
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Meanwhile, 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, now a high school graduate, has reached her first Grand Slam final – in Paris – and continues to progress.
On the men’s side, Alcaraz and 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner played a 5-hour, 15-minute quarter-final last Thursday that ended at 2:50 a.m., later than any other game in history. of the US Open. You can expect this duel to resume in the years to come.
Ruud will also be there, having reached a pair of Slam finals this year. So will Nick Kyrgios, 27, who has proven himself to be more than just a troublemaker on tour. No matter what you think of his antics, he’s a date-goer – take a look at his preparation for the Wimbledon final.
Frances Tiafoe, 24, is also determined to break through.
Fans line up to access Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch Serena Williams of the United States against Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia in the third round of women’s singles at the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2022 in New York.
New generation tennis
The global media is betting on the next generation of sport. Netflix, for example, greenlighted a behind-the-scenes series focusing on young stars like Swiatek and Tiafoe. Stakeholders hope that the project will increase the viewership of the game, just like Drive to survive made for Formula 1.
Spectators won’t need much persuasion. The US Open set a host of attendance records this year. The full three-week figure of 888,044 beat the previous mark, set in 2019. This year was also the first in Arthur Ashe Stadium’s 25-year history in which each of the 23,859 seats was sold for each session. Of course, Serena Williams’ Last Dance was a key driver for such excitement. But the young stars were too, especially Alcaraz.
He says he began to believe he could win a major tournament after winning in Miami in early April when he beat the likes of Ruud and then-world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to that prestigious title. on hard ground.
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“I think he was born to play this kind of tournament, born to play this kind of match,” said his coach, former Roland-Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrer. “From the time I started with him, I’ve seen different things from other guys his age.”
At around 6:00 p.m. Saturday, the day before the final, Alcaraz emerged from a downtown Manhattan hotel with his family, friends and Ferrero, for a walk in Central Park. He is barely recognized. That may change now that he’s a champion. The world will get to see what kind of stamina Alcaraz possesses.
“I’m hungry for more,” he said at his post-match press conference, dressed casually in blue shorts and a crinkle white windbreaker. Then he looked at the championship trophy, with a smile.
“I am going to fight [to] have more of that,” the youngster said. “I want to be on top for many, many weeks…[hopefully] many years.”
—with reporting by Ratu Kamlani/New York City
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