US Open - Day 12: Alcaraz and Ruud set up winner takes it all

A first Grand Slam is within grasp, the world No.1 ranking is also up for grabs in the US Open men’s singles final.

Casper Ruud / Demi-finale US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Talk about going out with a bang. The US Open’s tagline before this fortnight was ‘Spectacular Awaits’ and we are certainly in for a show on Sunday night.

The men’s singles final will welcome Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud onto a magnetic Arthur Ashe Stadium. Both seeking their maiden Grand Slam, the winner takes it all to be crowned the new world No.1 on Monday.

Alcaraz chalks up three-peat thriller

Considering all the hype and expectations, it’s incredible 19-year-old Alcaraz keeps on delivering on the major stage.

“You have to give everything you have to give. We have to fight for every last point,” claimed the Spaniard. “It doesn’t matter if we are fighting for five hours, six hours.” 

It’s taken three consecutive five-set epics, 13 hours and 28 minutes on court in five days, to burst into his first Grand Slam final.

On Friday night, the teenage prodigy prevailed 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3 past pumped up American Frances Tiafoe.

Major glory, No.1 in sight, Alcaraz is staying grounded.

“Well, it's close. But at the same time is so far away. It's a final of a Grand Slam, fighting for the No. 1 in the world, something that I dream since I was a kid,” stated the No.3 seed.

“Right now, I'm going to enjoy this moment. My first Grand Slam final. I will have time tomorrow to think about it.”

Tiafoe, who toppled Rafael Nadal en route to his standout US Open final four, apologised to his ardent home crowd after the stinging loss.

“I feel like I let you guys down. This one really hurts,” said the devastated world No. 26. “But I’m gonna come back and I will win this thing one day.”

Tiafoe definitely let no one down, this was another contest to circle in the list of ‘match of the tournament’ contenders.

Down 5-6 in the opener, Alcaraz was at his show-stopping best again, latching onto two last-ditch forehands from behind him, the second a winner to send the crowd into pandemonium. The Spaniard simply stared into the crowd, with a “Are you not entertained?” kind of look.

Tiafoe managed to dissolve match point in the fourth to force a deciding set, it was four hours and 19minutes of encapsulating action.

"It was incredible for me. I think I play great against Frances, who were playing unbelievable these two weeks. It's an incredible feeling to be in a final, to be able to win this,” stated Alcaraz, revealing flashbacks to his younger self.

“I feel great right now. a little bit tired. Right now I'm just so, so happy. I thought about a young man like 10 years ago dreaming for this moment right now.”

Steely Ruud steals the show

Should Alcaraz lift the trophy on Sunday, he will become the youngest world No.1 in ATP history, displacing a 20-year-old Lleyton Hewitt from 20 years ago.

However, Alcaraz is far from complacent, knowing “I will have to show my best,” in the Flushing Meadows finale facing Casper Ruud.

The Oslo-born baseliner roared into his second major final of 2022 with a 7-6(5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 scoreline with 27th seed Karen Khachanov.

It’s crystal clear that the 23-year-old is stubborn, knowing exactly what prestigious prizes are within his reach. So much so that the world No.7 clinched the first set off the back of a lung-bursting 55 shot rally. Talk about resilience.

“That's fun with tennis because some of the best rallies of all time, longer rallies of all times, often come in important points because we both realise how important it is. You don't want to do a mistake,” mused Ruud.

“Towards the end the pulse was getting very high and the legs were almost shaking at a point. I was able to at one point there where I just ripped the backhand down the line and went for it sort of. Could stretch my arms in the air and win the first set.

“I think it was a key factor to win the second set, and that gave of course motivation and energy to play good and keep going. I played phenomenal in the second and the fourth.”

Afterwards the Norwegian admitted plenty of pre-match nerves considering the “biggest match for both of our careers.” He didn’t show too many signs, with a steely look of determination and calm persona.

“Tennis is a psychological game, as well as physical. Sometimes we are trying to act like we have good posture, but on the inside, we probably feel different. There is a bit of acting, as well, in sports.”

Casper Ruud / Demi-finale US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Ruud will need all his acting skills in the final facing the Alcaraz artillery.

“Whoever it is, they have reached the final for a reason and they are playing great,” said the No.5 seed, unaware of his opponent before the night session. “Carlos and Frances are both very electric players, play with a lot of joy and can bring up unbelievable rallies and points. So I have to be prepared for everything.”

The combination of a first Grand Slam and ranking top spot on the line is a fitting finale in the eyes of Ruud.  

“I think what's most fair is if we both reach the final and whoever wins the final reaches the world No.1. That would be I think the ideal situation,” stated Ruud.  “If I go to bed as No.1, I will sleep pretty damn well, I guess.”