There will be a first time slam winner and a new World No.1 on Sunday night as Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud go face-to-face in the final of the US Open. Alcaraz would become only the eighth player under the age of 20 to win a Men’s Singles slam and the first since Rafael Nadal. Ruud is in his second final of the year, hoping for a much better outing than his 6-3 6-3 6-0 loss at Roland Garros.
While his French Open final would have been no surprise for many, Ruud making the final of a hard court slam would have been a bit more unexpected 18 months ago. The Norwegian has worked a lot on improving his game on the surface and that has been paying off – with a Miami final in addition to this result this year. He soaked up anything Khachanov could throw it him with the standout moment being the 55 shot point that Ruud won on set point to seal the first set of the 7-6 6-2 5-7 6-2 victory. “I played phenomenal in the second and Karen stepped up in the third. It was back and forth like every five-setter is, but I am just so happy. After Roland Garros I was extremely happy but of course humble enough to think that could be my only final at a Grand Slam in my career. It doesn’t come easy, but here I am back again a couple [of] months later.” he said afterwards.
Alcaraz has spent over 13 hours in just his last three matches after winning five setters against Marin Cilic, Jannik Sinner and now Frances Tiafoe. The young Spaniard showed incredible stamina in coming through these with the last also having a vocal crowd in support of an American man to deal with. He will have been disappointed to have lost two tiebreaks in the 6-7 6-3 6-1 6-7 6-3 win over Tiafoe but it didn’t show in the decider with the 19 year-old never falling behind after breaking to open the set. “To be honest in the semi-final of a Grand Slam you have to give everything… we have to fight until the last ball. It doesn’t matter if we are fighting for five hours, six hours. It doesn’t matter. You have to give everything on court,” Alcaraz said.
This is going to be another physically gruelling affair and you have to wonder if there is a limit to how much Alcaraz can handle – even if it currently looks like there isn’t. He has bounced back from marathon matches in the past so tiredness playing an issue looks unlikely for the time being. He has won both matches against Ruud so far, most notably with a straight sets wins in the Miami final. Ruud is a much improved player on the surface but Alcaraz is just an incredibly smart player who will be able to target Ruud at key moments while holding his own in lengthier rallies against an ultra-consistent opponent.
Many players have been seen as the one to take the generation following the Big 4 forward and it has never quite stuck. Whether one of these two men can do so is uncertain for now but the tour may actually have two players who are ready to stick around at the top now and lead the tour as the new World No. 1.
Prediction – Carlos Alcaraz in four sets