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Home » Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish sensation, beat Casper Ruud of Norway in four sets to capture his first Grand Slam championship.
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Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish sensation, beat Casper Ruud of Norway in four sets to capture his first Grand Slam championship.

Carlos Alcaraz, 19, became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam title since Rafael Nadal in 2005.

Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish sensation, beat Casper Ruud of Norway, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3, to win his first Grand Slam singles title, but probably not his last. Far, far from it. A blasted serve that came off his racket like a missile sealed it. The Carlos Alcaraz era is here.

On Sunday, he reached the sport’s pinnacle in grand fashion on its biggest stage, packing the nearly 24,000 fans in the stadium onto his bandwagon as he claimed not only the men’s singles championship and $2.6 million in prize money, but also the No. 1 ranking in the world.

The ride began in 2021 in Australia, where he won his first main draw Grand Slam match on a court in the hinterlands of Melbourne Park with just a few dozen fans in attendance. He was outside the top 100 of the rankings then. In Croatia, last summer, he won his first tour-level title, and in New York starting a month later he blasted and drop-shotted his way into the quarterfinals as part of a teenage wave that took over the U.S. Open.

This spring brought his first titles at the Masters level, just below the Grand Slams, in Miami Gardens, Fla., and Madrid, where he beat Nadal and Novak Djokovic in consecutive matches. Veterans playing him — and often losing — for the first time left the court shaking their heads, their eyes glazed, and at a loss for words about what they had experienced.

“This is something I have dreamed of since I was a kid,” Alcaraz, not so far removed from youth, said during the trophy presentation, after he and Ruud acknowledged the solemnity of the 21st anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in their moments of tennis heartbreak and triumph.

Alcaraz’s victory was the capstone of a tournament that will be recalled for years for many reasons. There was the farewell to Serena Williams, widely considered the greatest female player of the modern era; the rise of Frances Tiafoe, the 24-year-old American son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, who knocked out Nadal and pushed Alcaraz to the limits in an electric five-set semifinal; and on Saturday, Iga Swiatek of Poland staked her claim as the new queen of the game, winning her third Grand Slam title in less than two years.

Alcaraz, though, said his first chance at a Grand Slam final was no time to be tired, and he started causing problems for Ruud early. Determined not to get into another marathon slugfest against an opponent as steady and as fit as anyone else in the field, Alcaraz stepped on the gas pedal from the start, rushing the net at every good chance and ending points with crisp volleys hit on the sharpest angles. Given what had transpired recently, Ruud had every right to expect Alcaraz’s unique style of tennis attrition. Instead he got shock-and-awe.

Alcaraz grabbed the early edge in the third game. With Ruud serving, he eschewed any inclinations to ease his way into the match. With a chance to cause early damage, Alcaraz flicked on his afterburners and started grunting with late-match urgency and volume on every shot.

After Alcaraz clinched that first service break, Ruud grabbed his towel near the corner of the court where his father and coach, the former pro Christian Ruud, sat a few feet above the court.

It took another 10 games for Ruud to find it, but he did. Down a set, Ruud pressured Alcaraz by putting ball after ball at his feet, then put on an Alcaraz-like display of power and touch and covered the court to even the match after an hour and a half, as Alcaraz’s efficiency, and his lethal drop-shot, went missing temporarily.

But throughout the tournament, Alcaraz showed a rare ability to find the next gear to meet whatever challenge came his way. He put that on full display late in the third set, during a crucial, and for Ruud, soul-crushing stretch across a single game and a tiebreaker.

With Alcaraz serving to stay in the set, Ruud poured every bit of his power and determination into a series of rocketed forehands that earned him two chances to move a set ahead. Each time, Alcaraz pressed forward, fearlessly pushing into the court chin first. His chance for a lead gone, Ruud crumpled in the tiebreaker with a series of wild misses as Alcaraz reeled off seven consecutive points.

From there, holding back Alcaraz suddenly felt much like it has all year, a task akin to holding back an ocean. An absurd forehand, topspin lob while Alcaraz was running at full speed gave him the chance to get the crucial fourth-set service break. A point later, he did his best impression of a human backboard until Ruud could keep the ball in the court no longer.

“Hard to believe he’s only teenager, but, yeah, he is,” Ruud said later.

After the final point, a crushing service winner, Alcaraz collapsed on his back. A minute later he was embracing his longtime coach — the former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero — who has piloted the journey, along with Alcaraz’s father, a former pro himself, and his grandfather, who helped develop the tennis club where he started to play as a 3-year-old.

When he made it back to his chair, Alcaraz put his face in a towel and sobbed, as Ruud sat stoically a few feet away. Ruud knew what had hit him, and knew that it could be the first of many days that end like this one.

“I want to be on top for many weeks, many years,” Alcaraz said later in a news conference. Then he pointed at the trophy. “I want more of these.”

Credit The New York Times

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