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On the Quiet Hardcourts in Spain, Carlos Alcaraz’s Star Was Already Shining

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In December, after I visited Carlos Alcaraz and his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, on the academy where they’re based within the stark countryside of Villena, Spain, each calmly and fairly explained that the goal for 2022 was to interrupt into the highest 15.

A lot for calm and reason.

On Sunday, Alcaraz became a Grand Slam champion by winning the boys’s singles title on the U.S. Open and, at 19, the youngest No. 1 player for the reason that ATP rankings were created nearly 50 years ago.

In December, Alcaraz trained on a hardcourt with Ferrero near the back of the academy grounds with just a couple of people observing as they picked up their very own balls amid the peace and quiet.

A lot for peace and quiet.

Sunday’s four-set victory over Casper Ruud of Norway was secured in a sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium with the roars of nearly 24,000 fans rumbling off the closed retractable roof as Alcaraz lunged and leaped straight into the winner’s circle and the collective consciousness.

To be honest, a star was already born.

Alcaraz ticked that big box quite a while ago when he upset the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal this season on his acrobatic, gravity-defying method to trophies on tour and early acclaim. He sensed after winning the Miami Open final over Ruud in early April that Grand Slam titles were inside his reach.

But regardless of how clear the potential and the way dynamic the sport, you never truly know what a tennis player is able to until they should fight for the most important points on the most important occasions.

Sunday was certainly one of those moments, and now he and we all know for certain that Alcaraz is the mega-talent that men’s tennis was anxiously hoping would surface with the Big Three — Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer — riding toward the fading light.

“It’s crazy for me,” he said on Sunday night. “I never thought I used to be going to attain something like this at 19 years old. Every part got here so fast.”

Alcaraz, as truly exceptional players do, has arrived at a number of the usual way stations on the road to success and stepped on the accelerator pedal as a substitute of pulling over.

Pete Sampras was also 19 when he rode his supreme serve and running forehand to win the 1990 U.S. Open men’s singles title. Nadal, Alcaraz’s fellow Spaniard, was 19, too, when he arrived at his first French Open in 2005 and ran the table against his elders without even being pushed to a fifth set.

Alcaraz now belongs in the identical paragraph even when he never made it look remotely that easy in Recent York. He had to avoid wasting a match point against Jannik Sinner of Italy within the quarterfinals. That was a part of him winning three five-set matches in a row that finished near midnight or well after and kept him from going to sleep until much of the town was beginning to get up.

And all that was just to achieve the ultimate, where a letdown would have been entirely comprehensible. But Alcaraz was having none of it, even when there have been some moments within the second and third sets where his energy levels looked as if it would dip and his full-cut groundstrokes lacked a few of their customary punch.

But as champions do, he found a way, and as not all champions do, he did so by attacking when threatened slightly than playing the waiting game.

Serving within the twelfth game of the third set, he saved one set point by approaching the web and hitting a deft angled forehand volley winner. He saved the following by serving and volleying and ending off the purpose with an overhead shot. He won the sport with a lunging backhand lob that sent Ruud scrambling back to the baseline, where he hit a tweener that Alcaraz, back at the web, punched away to force a tiebreaker with the group giving him nothing but positive feedback.

There is no such thing as a must bury the Big Three just yet.

Federer’s glory days are very likely done at age 41, and he has not played in greater than a 12 months. But Nadal, at 36, won two major titles this 12 months and has had a fabulous, reaffirming season. Djokovic just won Wimbledon and, despite being unvaccinated against Covid-19, looks very more likely to be granted permission by the Australian government to defend the old guard against Alcaraz and the brand new wave in January on the Australian Open, which Djokovic has won a record nine times.

But Sunday’s final and this U.S. Open as an entire sent a transparent message: men’s tennis can have a powerful heartbeat long after its long-running icons are gone.

This was appointment viewing, too, a day when two hungry young men were chasing their first major title and the No. 1 rating at the identical time.

This was a primary, and what made it higher yet was that this was big-time all-court tennis, brimming with risk and reward as roars of approval and occasional disbelief rumbled through the Thunderdome of Ashe Stadium.

Alcaraz, right down to earth off the court, is a human highlight reel with a racket in hand: ideally suited to a social-media age where bite-size brilliance is the coin of the realm. But Ruud, less obviously charismatic, showed loads of panache himself, hunting down drop shots, ripping daring forehand winners, countering Alcaraz’s injections of pace and hustling to maintain points and his probabilities alive.

He also showed welcome and noteworthy sportsmanship, calling a double bounce on himself within the second set that the chair umpire had missed, thereby awarding the purpose to Alcaraz, who clearly appreciated the gesture.

It was a final played in that form of Corinthian spirit despite all that was at stake.

Ruud was near turning it, closer than the four-set rating line will indicate, but he lost his edge and his rhythm when he needed it most: mistiming shot after shot within the third-set tiebreaker that gave Alcaraz fresh hope and a much clearer view of the finish line.

“He has such an incredible fighting spirit,” said Ruud, still looking for his first major title after losing to Nadal in straight sets at this 12 months’s French Open final.

Ruud is well placed to notice the common thread between the 2 Spanish champions, born nearly 17 years apart. Alcaraz may need grown up admiring Federer’s flair and net-rushing skills, but like Nadal, he clearly relishes the fight as he proved many times in Recent York. He delights not only in having won a match but in the method that results in winning.

“It’s what makes Carlos special,” Ferrero said during my visit in December. “Many players prefer to compete but not so many look ahead to playing the most important points. Carlos does, and I feel that could be a excellent sign for the long run.”

Ferrero said he sensed a few of Alcaraz’s joy was missing earlier this summer on the Masters 1000 tournaments in Montreal and Mason, Ohio. Ferrero was intent on recapturing it and urged him to be true to his attacking instincts, to approach the web off short balls and to make use of his full range of skills. Mission completed. “I got here here simply to enjoy,” Alcaraz said. “To smile on court and to enjoy playing tennis.”

Ferrero, who clinched the No. 1 rating by reaching the ultimate of the 2003 U.S. Open won by Andy Roddick, stays an unexcitable sort, but even he was struggling to maintain his composure down the stretch on Sunday, extending his palms to the team to keep up calm while his strained expression was sending a slightly different message.

Who could blame him? He sensed something special in Alcaraz when he saw him in his early teens at a low-level skilled tournament in Spain: He saw him hit drop shots and rush the web without fear; sensed his ability to adapt his game to the opposition; sensed that he had extra gears on his extra gears.

But he also had a long-term view in mind.

“Above all, he told me to not be in a rush,” Alcaraz explained in December. “That I’m going to get the experience and play the tournaments and learn the ropes, and that there’s no must get ahead of the method. I would like to live all these moments and never be in a rush for the outcomes straight away.”

A lot for not being in a rush.

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