US Open – Day 14: Alcaraz recaptures joy to reach the summit

 - Alex Sharp

The teenage sensation broke all sorts of records in New York to lift his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.

Carlos Alcaraz  / Finale US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

With his electric energy and infectious smile, Carlos Alcaraz has captured the imagination of the tennis world.

The bold play, the sprinter-style movement, he’s the real deal. The hype, the expectations, the comparisons with all-time greats such as Rafael Nadal, would be daunting for the majority. But this teenage prodigy is built different.

Under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Alcaraz delivered what plenty have predicted, Grand Slam glory. A riveting 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-3 final triumph over newly crowned world No.2 Casper Ruud sent the Spaniard into the history books.

The stats and milestones are endless, the 19-year-old becomes the first ever teenage ATP world No.1, the youngest men’s major winner since his idol Nadal at Roland-Garros 2005. Such miraculous success has come so fast, taking Alcaraz by surprise.

“It's crazy for me. I've never thought that I was going to achieve something like that at 19-years-old,” beamed Alcaraz.

“It's unbelievable. It's something I dream since I was a kid, since I start playing tennis. Of course, lift this trophy today is amazing for me.”

Catching the eye of Ferrero

The rise of ‘Charly’ has been rapid to say the least, ever since bursting onto the pro circuit in February 2018 on home courts in Murcia, Spain.

“I remember he had something different from the others, that was a little special,” Ferrero told last June. “I saw him in a Futures at 14, he lost that match, but that’s when I thought I could be his coach, I saw things that made me want to be his coach.”

Ferrero, who Alcaraz describes as a “second father,” has since transformed this unique talent from “like a spaghetti, very thin,” into the most explosive player on the planet.

Carlos might be surprised by his Big Apple trophy bite, but Ferrero was just waiting.

“Of course, it comes very fast. It's a surprise for everybody except maybe to me because I trained with him every day and I know what he's able to play on the court,” continued the former world No.1

“I was pretty sure that maybe it wasn't this year, could be next one. Very happy about it, It was fast, but now definitely we want to continue.”

Carlos Alcaraz / Finale US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Miami magic, rediscovering his smile

Last season Alcaraz made his major step up, announcing himself as a qualifier into the third round at Roland-Garros. That was swiftly followed up by a breakout quarter-final at the US Open.

However, 2022 has been a trajectory on another scale. Starting the season at world No.32, the 19-year-old has lifted two Masters 1000 titles and became a household name with consecutive victories over Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in Madrid.

When did he realise he belonged on the major stage?

“Honestly, since I won Miami. I thought I was able to have a Grand Slam in my hands,” declared Alcaraz, also edging Ruud in the final 7-5, 6-4 back in March.

“But before Miami, I was thinking that I have to still growing up. I thought that I'm able to do a good results in a Grand Slam, but not a champion.”

It hasn’t been a constant, smooth rise since March. Last month ‘Charly’ lost an opening epic to Tommy Paul in Montreal, ahead of a third round battle with Cameron Norrie ending in defeat in Cincinnati. The spark has gone inside.

“I lost the joy a little bit. I felt the pressure. I couldn't smile on court which I'm doing in every match, every tournament,” admitted the teenage prodigy.

“I came here to smile on court, to enjoy playing tennis. I would say if I smile, if I have fun out there, I saw my best level, my best tennis.”

The newly stated world No.1 flourished in the Broadway style shows on Arthur Ashe Stadium, pumping up the crowd with countless hotshot moments.

A key factor in his success and fulfilment was a tactical switch up by Ferrero, to give Alcaraz more attacking freedom.

“He maybe lose a little bit his happiness on the court, maybe worrying about numbers and tournaments, not about his game,” added 2003 Roland-Garros champion Ferrero.

“We came here. I gave him the advice to go to the net on any ball that it was short. So we tried to practice the whole week this. It's like he started to feel better on the court, that he enjoy again to play the tennis that he has.”

It worked a treat. Alcaraz canvassed the net with aplomb, winning 207/287 tournament net points (72%). He also mixed it up with six per cent of points on his delivery conjuring up a serve and volley. Within those points Alcaraz succeeded by sneaking in 35 out of 47 occasions. It was captivating to watch and the Spaniard had a reciprocal cycle of energy with the gobsmacked fans.

This full-throttle, front foot brand of tennis is what appeals to the wider audience, combined with his relentless determination, Alcaraz’s US Open matches will live long in the memory.

A break down to Marin Cilic in the fifth set, saving match point to force a decider with Jannik Sinner, before they posted the latest ever finish at Flushing Meadows at 2:50am. There’s more, Alcaraz trailed by a set in the semi-final versus Frances Tiafoe and then saved two set points in the third to twist the final in his favour. Carlos simply had us lost for words at times.

Carlos Alcaraz / Finale US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Standing above and beyond the rest

“I think he born to play this kind of tournament, born to play these kind of matches. Since the moment that I started with him, I saw some things that were different than the other guys at his age,” mused Ferrero.

“I am still seeing it on the court. In important moments, he always try to go. This was one of the more difficult things in tennis, even on his first Grand Slam final.

“He's a great competitor. He's trying all the time. We could see it the last matches, even against Cilic, Sinner, or Tiafoe, that he never gave up. He always wanted to push and try to stay on the match.”

Carlos Alcaraz & Casper Ruud / Finale US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

2020 finalists Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, 2021 champion Daniil Medvedev and 2022 runner-up Ruud are all in the mix to wrestle away the top prizes from the ‘Big Three.’ 

“They're going to play very motivated against him. Now he's No.1. Before he was 2 or 3. Even like this, it's like Real Madrid-Barcelona, there's a rivalry that gets you increase your level,” continued Ferrero. “He has to be ready.”

Make no mistake Alcaraz won’t be allowed to rest on his laurels, not that he wants to. The record-breaking teenager, cracked another smile with this signal of intent.
“Of course, I'm hungry for more. I want to be in the top for many, many weeks. Hope many years. I'm going to work hard again after this week, this amazing two weeks. I'm going to fight for have more of this.”