Carlos Alcaraz entered the big leagues on Sunday in New York. Winner 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7/1) 6-3 in 3:20 over Casper Ruud in the US Open final, the Spanish prodigy signed a historic first: picking up a first major trophy while becoming number 1 global.
The icing on the cake, Carlos Alcaraz is, at 19 years and 4 months, the youngest leader in the history of the ATP ranking (created in 1973). It erases the record for precociousness in this area, held so far by the Australian Lleyton Hewitt who had reached the 1st place in the world at the age of 20 years and 8 months.
The youngest winner since Nadal in 2005
The right-hander from Murcia is by far not the youngest winner of a Grand Slam tournament, the male record being held by Michael Chang (17 years and 109 days during his triumph in Paris in 1989). But Grand Slam-winning “teenagers” are a rare commodity: the latest was Rafael Nadal, who was 19 years and 3 days old when he won his first Roland Garros.
Compared to his illustrious compatriot since his first outbursts, Carlos Alcaraz also had to deal with pressure as intense as that which already accompanied Rafael Nadal in 2005. His advent was indeed awaited by all observers, but could not be predictable due to the omnipotence of the “Big Three” Nadal/Federer/Djokovic.
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Almost 24 hours spent on the courts before the final
The new world number 1 had also had to digest a first failure – relative – at Roland-Garros, a tournament which he had approached as a favorite after his coronation in the Masters 1000 in Madrid. His defeat in the quarter-finals, certainly against an Alexander Zverev in great shape, had reminded us that nothing would be easy for him.
Nothing was easy either in this US Open for Carlos Alcaraz, who combines the flexibility and speed of Novak Djokovic, the aggressiveness of Rafael Nadal and the technical palette of Roger Federer. The immense efforts made in his three previous matches, all concluded in five sets, almost cost him dearly on Sunday.
The Spaniard also became the finalist with the longest time on court in a Grand Slam tournament with a total of 23:40. The previous record was held by South African Kevin Anderson when he lost in the final at Wimbledon in 2018 after spending 11:20 p.m. on the court.
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On the ropes in the third set
Manhandled in the second set, Carlos Alcaraz – who had dismissed a match point against Jannik Sinner in a 5:15 long quarter-final – was also on the ropes at the end of the third set. Would he have found the resources to return to the score if he had not erased two third set balls? Nothing is less sure.
But the question did not arise. The protege of the ex-world number 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero flew over the debates in the tie-break of the third round, facing a suddenly less solid and more hesitant Casper Ruud. And he continued his momentum in the fourth set.
Alcaraz displayed the full panoply of his talent, physical, tactical and tennis. But the renowned austere Norwegian was not left out to ensure the show. On several occasions, the nearly 24,000 spectators rose to deafening ovations for one or the other of the two players.
Again serene and hard-hitting – especially on his serve – the Spaniard forced the decision by signing the break in the sixth game. He kept this advantage until the end, converting his second match point by slamming a winning service before to collapse on the court.
The eager champion
As far as he can remember, Carlos Alcaraz has always wanted to be world number one. A prodigy as in a hurry as he is a fierce fighter, the Spaniard became one at only 19, making him the most precocious in history.
On a court, the young man goes very, very, very fast. Which often allows him to disgust his opponents, by dint of returning all the balls, the furthest, the strongest, the most vicious, the most desperate, to ultimately win a point that seemed inevitably lost.
This ability is coupled with a boundless self-sacrifice, which exudes humility and inevitably recalls that of Rafael Nadal, a quality which has made one of the characteristics and above all one of the keys to the success of this glorious elder, with a record of 22 titles in the Grand Slam under his belt.
If we add their meteoric journey in common – the two won a first Masters 1000 at 18 and a first Major at 19 – the cumbersome label of “next Nadal” was quickly stuck on the back of Alcaraz.
“It’s been going on for years on social media. But I try not to get distracted: I think about myself, about my progress. I’m from Murcia, he from Majorca. He’s left-handed, not me. When I was little, I was anything but a warrior, I was small, frail, not really powerful”, he recalled in June to the Italian daily Corriere della Serra.
“At 5 or 6 years old, Carlos already had natural qualities”
“Carlitos” started hitting his first balls when he was four, on the courts or alone against the wall of the tennis club run by his father, in El Palmar, near Murcia, where he still lives with his parents and three brothers. “At 5 or 6 years old, Carlos already had natural qualities, very good coordination and above all an ability to learn very quickly. He could copy what he saw on the court. It was then that we decided to develop his potential,” his father told Trans World Sport.
On Sunday, by winning his first Major title at Flushing Meadows, he killed two birds with one stone, even setting a record for the earliness of reaching the top of the hierarchy, at exactly 19 years, 4 months and 6 days. All this, less than five months after being the youngest player in history to break into the top 10. Supersonic.
Coquetry of fate, it was at the US Open, 19 years ago almost to the day, that his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero became number one, beating Andre Agassi in the semi-finals before losing to Andy Roddick. . Three months earlier, the Spaniard had won at Roland-Garros and his future protege had just been born.
Fate brought them together, since Ferrero took him under his wing at 15, in his academy in Villena, a good hour from Alcaraz. “It changed my life. I evolved, I became harder on the court”, assures the young gifted.
“I know very well that I have to keep working”
Having become a rock, Alcaraz proved it by winning several marathons at the US Open. Even where a year earlier, for his very first participation, a thigh injury had forced the Spaniard to boil as a teenager to abandon in the quarters, after a hair-raising course.
Nevertheless launched, the rocket passed the speed of light this year, with four titles gleaned in the spring, including its first two Masters 1000 in Miami then in Madrid. In the Spanish capital, he made an impression by knocking out Nadal and Novak Djokovic, then number one, unheard of in the same tournament on clay.
No question then of seeing yourself arrive: “It is not because I won what I won very quickly that it goes to my head. I know very well that I have to keep working. When he triumphed in Madrid, he thought first of his roots. “Long live El Palmar and long live Murcia,” he wrote on the camera shown to the players. “I am very family. I love being at home with my family and with friends. I will never lose this DNA”, he explained then. AFP