Long live King Carlos I

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain won the U.S. Open men's singles tennis tournament yesterday, a feat that catapults him to a worldwide No. 1 ranking. He is 19 years old and the youngest No. 1 ever.

His final match, against a formidable opponent, Casper Ruud of Norway, provided plenty of thrills, chills, and spills. The celebrity-studded New York crowd oohed and aahed repeatedly as the two young men (Ruud is 23) showed off their tremendous athleticism and spectacular tennis IQ's.

Ruud took the first set, but the man child on the other side of the net swept the next three, and only one of those (the middle set) was close. Alcaraz took that one in a tiebreaker that he handled with ease, and Ruud faded pretty quickly from there. 

The contest was a joy to watch, and once the players got over the early jitters, they seemed to be enjoying themselves as well. At the end of one point that featured a series of circus shots, Alcaraz wound up with his belly on the deck. He had lost the point, but still he smiled right along with his opponent. The play had been that good. The crowd was on its feet, roaring, with much love for the game all around. There was nothing more you could have asked for. Everything was shining.

Ruud, the son of a former Norwegian great who now serves as his son's coach, moves up to No. 2 in the rankings as a result of his reaching the finals. He also picked up a nifty $1.3 million prize, while Alcaraz won twice that much.

There is some talk of an asterisk being placed on both these young men's achievements at the U.S. Open, in that Novak Djokovic was barred from entering the country to play because he refuses to be vaccinated against Covid. There will be no such punctuation mark in my book. The Djoker's problems are akin to an injury, and that's part of the sport. He made his choice. And the Russians were all there, and they all lost. Alcaraz and Ruud got their trophies fair and square, as did Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur.

The sky is most definitely the limit for Alcaraz. He is a force of nature at this point, wise beyond his years but probably still too green to understand what it all means. As John McEnroe put it as he wound up his commentary and headed down to the trophy ceremony, if Carlos stays healthy, he will win many majors. 

The comparisons to his countryman, the one-time teen phenom Rafael Nadal, are obvious, but Alcaraz's game is more like Roger Federer's. When you're in same sentence with both those guys, you are really something.

There's more tennis ahead in the fall, but New York was the last major professional tournament of 2022. The greatest on the planet will assemble again in Melbourne, Australia for their next really big show in January. It's a pretty good bet that Carlos will be there. He will still be 19 years old.