The U.S. Open defies tradition. It was the first Major to introduce a final-set tiebreak way back in 1970. It was the first to award men and women equal prize money in 1973. This year, it became the first to introduce coaching during matches. There is also non-conformity of a different kind; Flushing Meadows is no single male player’s fiefdom. Since January 2006, the Australian Open, Roland-Garros and Wimbledon have collectively seen just five different winners. In the same time span, U.S. Open has had 10, the last of which is Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz, crowned the king of New York on Sunday after a four-set victory over Norway’s Casper Ruud. The triumph has taken Alcaraz, 19, to the pinnacle of ATP rankings, making him the youngest man to reach the top. He is also the first teenager to win a Grand Slam tournament since Rafael Nadal at the 2005 French Open. The title run was Alcaraz’s baptism by fire. Prior to the final, he had spent over 20 hours on court and had to battle through three tough five-setters that finished well past midnight. Ruud, known for his consistency and court coverage, had past experience of a Major final (2022 French Open). But Alcaraz did not suffer a letdown, displaying the same spirit he had in clinching the Madrid Masters in May by defeating Alexander Zverev after having recorded back-to-back victories over Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Circumstances played a role in Alcaraz’s ascent. Djokovic not being awarded any points for his Wimbledon win and then being barred from entering the United States of America because of his unvaccinated status eased his path. While he undoubtedly plays first-strike tennis of the highest order, there may yet be contemporary equals. Jannik Sinner, after all, had a match-point in the fourth set of their quarterfinal. But no player in recent memory has combined as many good traits — shot-selection, temperament and a complete absence of big-match nerves — into such a wholesome package like Alcaraz. Even as the Spaniard ushers in the churn at the top of the men’s game, the women’s side seems to be settling down, with both a dominant force and a pecking order emerging. Iga Swiatek, the unquestionable World No.1 since the first week of April, captured her maiden U.S. Open — second Grand Slam title in 2022 after Paris and third overall — while Ons Jabeur made her second straight final. Though Naomi Osaka has a higher Slam count (four), Swiatek’s awe-inspiring all-court prowess makes her the ideal candidate to be the next figurehead. As Serena Williams heads into retirement — the third-round defeat in New York appears to be her last stand — it finally feels like the passing of the baton.