TTo be an elite athlete you must do more than play up to your strengths. When you’re under pressure or have to perform well, it is important not only to use your strengths but also to find a way of utilizing an overlooked aspect of your game.
Take 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz. He beat Casper Ruud of Norway 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3 on Sunday night at the 2022 U.S. Open to win his first major championship—and become the youngest-ever No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world.
Spaniard’s ability to maneuver around the court, chase down balls and to change the angles and shots he makes, such as drop shots or lobs, is what made him so popular. Although he has a decent serve—you don’t ascend the summit without one—he isn’t known for serving.
Alcaraz displayed the true marks of a champion when he used his serve on Sunday to take control of the title. Ruud was able to stop Alcaraz in the final minute of the match. As if Alcaraz was drawing from some secret power, it was as if the younger man had a hidden ability.
Having already passed the record for most time spent on the court during a US Open—23 hours and 20 minutes in all his matches—Alcaraz must have been tired. In the fourth set, he was ahead 4-3 but fell to 0-30. After smacking a forehand winner to make it 15-30, Alcaraz unfurled a 123 mile-per-hour ace right up the T, than another one wide of Ruud’s forehand, to go up in the game, and eventually hold. Alcaraz was only one game from winning the title.
Learn More Frances Tiafoe Might Save American Men’s Tennis
Moments later, he served as the champion and then found two more aces. He also rocketed a 125 mile-per hour service winner to complete it all. He laid on his back, then rolled over and wept with pure joy.
“It’s tough to talk right now,” he said in his on-court interview after the match. Did he feel exhausted now? “A little bit,” he said, smiling.
Even on a night when his signature drop shot wasn’t as sharp as it was in his semi-final win against American Frances Tiafoe on Friday night, Alcaraz gutted it out. Ruud, Alcaraz and Ruud had many exciting moments at the net. The two tried to pass balls between each other close up, almost like they were in a pickleball game. Rudd won several, Alcaraz won several.
Alcaraz, however, won the important points. Alcaraz won the third set tiebreaker, after Ruud had beaten Alcaraz by 6-2. Ruud would have lost all momentum if he dropped this set. Ruud was able to reach set point. Alcaraz saved Ruud’s life with a crosscourt forehand at the net. With an aggressive smash to the net, he saved another set point.
Alcaraz finally sent Rudd running on the 16th point. Rudd chased an Alcaraz lob, and hit the ball between his legs. The ball was over the net. But an imposing Alcaraz was waiting to blast Rudd’s trick shot back past him. Alcaraz waved his arms high in the air, rallying the sold-out crowd. Ruud won only one point in tie-breaker.
After the men’s singles final match in Flushing Queens on September 11th 2022, Carlos Alcaraz, Spain, was the winner. Casper Ruud, Norway, was the runner up.
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
Tennis’ new international stars
It was the transitional U.S. Open. With Novak Djokovic absent due to his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Rafael Nadal being bounced in the fourth round, Roger Federer still nursing an injury and Serena Williams losing in the third round of what she has declared to be her final tennis tournament, we got a glimpse of the sport’s future. There’s plenty of talent, from many corners of the globe.
In women’s tennis, Poland’s Iga Swiatek, 21, took two Grand Slams—the French Open and the U.S. Open—to emerge as a dominant force. In 2016, she became the first woman to win both majors consecutively.
Ons Jabeur from Tunisia was 28, and became the first Arab woman and first African woman in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam final. She’s known as the “Minister of Happiness” in her home country, given her sunny disposition.
Learn More Tennis Clothes’ Surprising and Sometimes Troubling History
Meanwhile, 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, now a high school gradate, reached her first Grand Slam final—in Paris—and continues to progress.
On the men’s side, Alcaraz and Italy’s Jannik Sinner, 21, played a 5 hour, 15 minute quarterfinal last Thursday that ended at 2:50am, later than any other match in U.S. Open history. In the coming years, you can expect to see this type of dueling again.
Ruud is also expected to be there, as he reached two Slam finals in this year’s competition. So will Nick Kyrgios, 27, who proved that he’s more than just a troublemaker on tour. No matter what you think about his antics, he is appointment viewing—just take a look at his run-up to the Wimbledon final.
Also determined to break through is 24-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who came so close to breaking the 19-year American men’s title drought in the majors.
A crowd gathered at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sept. 2nd 2022 to witness Serena Williams (USA) against Ajla Thomasljanovic (Australia).
Tennis’ new generation
Global media is betting on the sport’s next generation. Netflix for instance has approved a behind the scenes series focused on young athletes like Tiafoe or Swiatek. Stakeholders hope the project will grow the game’s audience, much like You Must Drive to SurviveDid for Formula 1.
Spectators won’t need much convincing. U.S. Open had a host attendance record this year. The prior record, which was set in 2019, had been broken by the full three-week total of 888.044. This year was also the first in the Arthur Ashe Stadium’s 25-year history in which each of the 23,859 seats were sold out for every session. Sure, Serena Williams’ last dance was a key driver for such enthusiasm. But so were the younger stars—especially Alcaraz.
After winning in Miami in April and defeating players such as Ruud, he believed he would win the major. On the road to this prestigious title on hard courts, he beat 5 Stefanos Tisipas.
Learn More The Ukrainian Tennis Stars Keep Going Despite the War at Home
“I think he born to play this kind of tournament, born to play these kind of matches,” says his coach, former French Open champ Juan Carlos Ferrer. “Since the moment that I started with him, I saw some things that were different than the other guys at his age.”
Alcaraz and some of his friends, family members, and Ferrero walked in Central Park at 6:00 pm on Saturday the night before. Alcaraz was barely recognized. That may change now that he’s a champion. Alcaraz will be able to show the world how much stamina he has.
“I’m hungry for more,” he said at his post-game press conference, casually attired in blue shorts and a wrinkled white windbreaker. He smiled as he took in the trophy for the title.
“I’m going to fight [to] have more of this,” the youngster said. “I want to be in the top for many, many weeks—[hopefully] many years.”
—with reporting by Ratu Kamlani/New York City
Here are more must-read stories from TIME