Future is now: Carlos Alcaraz lives up to generational talent hype with US Open triumph

Spaniard makes history with his maiden Grand Slam title and rise to world No 1

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For years a narrative has provided an undercurrent on the ATP Tour over what a post-Big Three era will look like, when it might begin, and who will lead the charge.

It was always going to be gradual but when Carlos Alcaraz lifted the US Open trophy in historic circumstances on Sunday night, it felt like a seminal moment, providing a few answers to those long-pondered questions.

The Spaniard is not the first player of this new generation to loosen the collective stranglehold on men's tennis long and stubbornly held by Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and until recently Roger Federer. But this is different to the Grand Slam-winning breakthroughs of Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev.

For starters, Alcaraz is not really of this generation. At just 19, he should belong to the next one but such is his outrageous talent there was no stopping his meteoric rise.

Alcaraz is the youngest Grand Slam champion since Nadal at the 2005 French Open and the youngest US Open winner since Pete Sampras in 1990, while he is the youngest male player to reach world No 1, beating previous record-holder Lleyton Hewitt by a year and five months.

Alcaraz's rise to the summit comes amid a season which already comprised four titles, including two Masters, prior to his New York triumph, having started the year ranked just outside the top 30 and competing in just his second full year on tour.

"This is something I dreamed of since I was a kid, to be No 1 in the world, to be the champion at a Grand Slam," Alcaraz said in an on-court interview.

"All the hard work that I did with my team, with my family. I'm just 19 years old so all of the tough decisions are with my parents and my team as well. This is something that is really, really special for me."

It has been special to witness, too, not least of all the past two weeks and his remarkable run to the title. There were three successive five-set marathons, the second of which was inarguably the match of the tournament as Alcaraz outlasted 21-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner in what should develop into a defining rivalry.

He overcame mid-match setbacks and high-pressure adversity against top-level opponents that would derail most players, let alone a teenager. And he did so executing a supercharged brand of all-court tennis, combining pace, power, and athleticism with exquisite and fearless shot-making ability from the baseline and at the net.

Granted, he's still a teenager but his powers of recovery to be so fresh for the final were nothing short of phenomenal.

"I always say that there is no time to be tired in the final round of a Grand Slam or any tournament," said Alcaraz, who spent 23 hours and 40 minutes on court over his seven matches.

"You have to give everything you have inside."

Alcaraz entered the US Open as one of four players who could end the tournament as the world No 1. As the world No 4, he was the lowest-ranked in contention but it is almost fitting, in line with his career so far, that it was he who ended up top of the pile.

"I want to be in the top for many, many weeks. I hope many years," he said. "I'm going to work hard again after this amazing two weeks. I'm going to fight to have more of this."

Such is the maturity with which he plays and how he approaches his career, it is easy to forget that he is only 19. A tennis career is long and often arduous, filled with many pitfalls and obstacles. How Alcaraz handles all of that moving forward, especially now with the added attention and fame, will determine if he takes his place among the greats.

For now, though, tennis can enjoy the arrival of a new superstar, and no one can deny that the sport is dealing with a generational talent.

The future of men's tennis is now and it's called Carlos Alcaraz.

Updated: September 12, 2022, 2:48 PM
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