A new Spanish tennis era dawns in New York

Men’s tennis has a brand new Grand Slam champion – and a brand new world number one.

His name? 19-year-old Spanish teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who has become the youngest male Major champion since his elder countryman Rafael Nadal at the 2005 French Open, and is now officially the youngest man to ever ascend to the top of the rankings.

The El Palmar native wrote his name into history with a hard-fought, four-set win against Casper Ruud – who was appearing in his second Major final but has again had to accept for second best after going down to Nadal in the French Open final.

There was so much riding on the result of this historic Major final – not only would the winner claim his first Grand Slam title, he would also climb to the top of the rankings, becoming just the seventh man since February 2004 to do so.

A break early in the opening set was enough for Alcaraz, contesting his first final in only his eighth Major appearance, to claim the opening set 6-4, serving it out to love in the tenth game.

Ruud would hit back in the second set, breaking in the sixth game for a 4-2 lead, and then breaking again two games later to take the second set 6-2 and level the match at a set apiece.

At this point in the match, many questioned whether Alcaraz had it in him to contest another marathon match, the Spaniard having been stretched to five sets in each of his past three matches, including two that ended after 2am.

He got off to the perfect start by breaking Ruud’s serve to start the third set, and had a couple of points for a double break which would’ve put him up by 3-0.

However, Ruud would work his way back into the match, breaking back to force a tiebreak but not before wasting two set points after Alcaraz saved both with drop volleys.

After losing the first point of the breaker, the Spaniard would win the next seven points unabated to take a two-sets-to-one lead, leaving him just one set away from his first Major title – and the world number one ranking.

A break in the sixth game of the 38-minute fourth set – during which he didn’t face a single break point – was all the 19-year-old needed, claiming victory on his second championship point when he sent down a booming 125mph first serve forcing a soft error off Ruud’s racquet.

All up, Alcaraz spent 23 hours and forty minutes on the court in his seven matches – including marathon matches against Marin Cilic, Jannik Sinner and Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round, quarterfinals and semi-finals respectively.

He is also the first man to win the US Open title after saving a match point en route, doing so against Sinner in the fourth set of the quarter-final match which clocked in at five hours and fifteen minutes, since Stan Wawrinka in 2016.

Not only has he also become the first Spanish man other than Rafael Nadal to win a Major since his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero won the French Open in 2003, he has also become the youngest man to ascend to the top of the rankings.

At nineteen years and four months, he smashed the previous record held by Lleyton Hewitt, who was just three months short of turning 21 when he became world number one in November 2001, by seventeen months.

It also comes nineteen years after Ferrero lost to Andy Roddick in the 2003 US Open final – though despite that result, the Spaniard, who retired in 2012, actually became world number one the following week and remained there for two months.

The result is proof enough that the future of Spanish tennis is bright, especially with Nadal nearing the end of his career amid reports he could pull the pin after Roland Garros next year, and Garbine Muguruza struggling for form as she approaches her 29th birthday.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain with the US Open winner's trophy.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain with the US Open winner’s trophy. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

The highest-ranked Spanish woman, Paula Badosa, is 25 but has yet to prove herself at the Majors, only reaching one quarter-final at Roland Garros last year, and bombing out in the second round here at Flushing Meadows.

Many are tipping Alcaraz to win more Major titles, especially at the French Open where he could, potentially, inherit Nadal’s unofficial nickname as the “King of Clay”.

As for Casper Ruud, defeat in a second Major final is a bitter pill to swallow, but after being brutally defeated by Nadal at the French Open earlier this year there is no doubt he will be steeled for another shot at glory in 2023.

Alcaraz’s well-deserved and hard-fought victory brings to an end what has been a spectacular fortnight of tennis at the US Open, where we have seen two new singles champions crowned at Flushing Meadows.

In addition to Alcaraz’s win, women’s world number one Iga Swiatek was able to prove herself off the clay courts, winning her first Major hard-court title with a straight-sets win over Ons Jabeur, who had to settle for the runners-up plate for a second time.

We also saw the emotional ending to Serena Williams’ professional career, while Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic flew the flag for Australia, both reaching the quarter-finals in the singles draws.

And so this marks the end of the Grand Slam season, where we saw Rafael Nadal reign at the Australian and French Opens, Novak Djokovic win Wimbledon, and Alcaraz become the first teenager in seventeen years to win a Major here at the US Open.

With his twin wins in Melbourne and Paris, Nadal became the man with the most Major singles titles with 22, while Djokovic’s win at Wimbledon was his 21st major title; they broke a three-way tie they had held with Roger Federer (20) at the top of the leaderboard.

In the women’s, Ashleigh Barty became a homegrown champion at the Australian Open before suddenly pulling the pin on her career, while Swiatek reigned at both the French and US Opens, with Elena Rybakina winning Wimbledon in between.

With the Grand Slam season over, the focus now turns to the ATP and WTA Finals towards the end of the year before the new season is launched in 2023 with the Australian Open series.

I hope you have enjoyed this past fortnight of tennis, as well as my comprehensive coverage of the tournament.

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