Carlos Alcaraz, the new era that begins without the death of the previous one
“Come on! It’s here, it’s now,” shouted Carlos Alcaraz at his worst moment in the US Open final, when Casper Ruud was threatening to take a clear lead.
And he was right, it was there, it was now. It was being champion of the US Open, it was winning his first Grand Slam tournament, it was becoming, still a “teenager”, the youngest world number one in the professional era. It was all that, good reasons to make Alcaraz the man unable to stop smiling.
“It’s a little heavy to hear that,” Alcaraz summed up with the level-headedness you wouldn’t assume at 19 years old to hear about being the youngest number one in history.
With his 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 win over Ruud, Alcaraz ushered in a new era without the old one being dead. The era of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer cannot be declared dead if one looks at what happened in 2022, with titles in Australia and Roland Garros for the Spaniard and Wimbledon for the Serbian.
Thus, there are two overlapping eras: the one led by Alcaraz, accompanied by Ruud, Jannik Sinner and Frances Tiafoe, and the one held by Nadal and Djokovic while waiting for Federer, who plans to return to the tour next month in Basel. And the Laver Cup? That is in doubt.
These are, therefore, years of luxury for men’s tennis, with a leader, Alcaraz, who is leaving the experts speechless. If Antonio Martinez Cascales, his advisor, confessed to CLAY that in the Spaniard’s training sessions he sees shots he had never seen before, Jose Luis Clerc, former world number four, went the same way on ESPN’s broadcast this Sunday.
“I played against Borg and Vilas, I recounted matches of Sampras, Agassi, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic… I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the Argentine.
So anxious was Alcaraz today to play, that he forgot about the photo at the net before the match started. He ran out and the umpire made him come back.
Throughout the final, another fact about him, the first “teenager” champion, was confirmed: he smiles when he gets a good point. He smiles happily. In tennis, the usual thing is to show anger, but to contain the joy during the match. Smiles are for the end. In the “Alcaraz era”, that is changing.
The one on September 11, 2022, an emblematic date in the United States, was a good final. Without the drama of the matches that Alcaraz won against Jannik Sinner in the quarterfinals and Frances Tiafoe in the semifinals, but full of great points and with a constant sensation: the Spaniard and the Norwegian are two players of enormous level, two great protagonists of the years to come.
So good is Ruud, a tremendously solid player with a very good touch of the ball, that he put Alcaraz in serious trouble: he had two set points on the Spaniard’s serve, with a 6-5 advantage in the fourth set. The story of the final could have taken another path there.
But Alcaraz, who came from half an hour of anguish and physical and mental fatigue, was reborn screaming, clenching his fist and smiling. And he took the title.
What comes from now on is an era that bears his name. Remember: he is only 19 years old. On September 11, 2001, when a series of plane attacks rocked the United States and the entire planet, Alcaraz was not yet in this world.
Clay’s managing editor has covered more than 60 Grand Slam tournaments since 1996. Author of “Sin Red”, a journey around the world following Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.