Carlos Alcaraz insists he is “not afraid” as he targets the US Open title and a slice of history as the youngest men’s World No 1 on Sunday.
The 19-year-old Spaniard tackles Casper Ruud in a winner-takes-all final with both men chasing a first Slam crown and the top ranking.
“I’m not afraid of the moment,” said Alcaraz, the youngest finalist at a Slam since compatriot Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2005.
In a tournament which saw Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer fail to make the start, and four-time winner Nadal falling at the last-16 hurdle, Alcaraz has flourished in his status as champion-in-waiting.
Round by round ranking points
His mesmerising shot-making and flamboyance has seen him overcome three successive five-setters to make the final. He spent more than 13 hours on court in those three marathons.
Against Jannik Sinner, in a five-hour 15-minute quarterfinal which ended at 2:50 a.m. on Thursday morning, he saved a match point.
He then required four match points to finish off Frances Tiafoe in Friday’s semifinal, which was the fourth longest match of the tournament. It was Alcaraz’s 50th win of 2022.
Such performances have convinced Alcaraz that the stars have aligned for him to capture his first Slam title.
“I’ve prepared myself mentally and physically to be fighting for the big things on Sunday,” said Alcaraz, the youngest finalist in New York since Pete Sampras in 1990.
“I always dreamed of being number one.”
Alcaraz has a 2-0 winning record over Ruud, who will be playing in his second Slam final after finishing runner-up to Nadal at the French Open in June.
One of those wins came on hard courts at the Miami final in March. It was one of Alcaraz’s four titles in 2022.
In both previous meetings, Alcaraz has won in straight sets.
“I am just going for it and I’ll enjoy the moment,” said Alcaraz, whose coach Juan Carlos Ferrero ascended to the number one spot when he made the 2003 final in New York.
Ruud stepping away from clay
Ruud, meanwhile, won’t be afraid of slugging it out for five sets on Sunday – his four-hour 23-minute third round win over Tommy Paul was the tournament’s third longest.
The 23-year-old will become World No 1 on Sunday if he becomes the first Norwegian man to win a Grand Slam title.
However, with eight of his nine career titles coming on clay, Ruud has been dismissed as a one-surface specialist.
His three titles in 2022, in Buenos Aires, Geneva and Gstaad, were all on clay.
Before this year, he had never got past the third round in New York in four visits but making the final in Miami helped convince him that he can be a force on faster courts.
“Reaching that final I think did something with my self-belief but also respect from other players,” said Ruud, the current World No 7.
“Whenever they look at my results, they’ll see, Okay, he made the final of an ATP 1000 on hard court.
“This guy knows to play more than clay. If you can have small percentages of fear or respect in your opponent’s head, it will of course help.”
Ruud’s run to the final has been helped by seeing top seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev fall in the last-16 and fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas exit in the first round.
Both were in Ruud’s half of the draw.
Ruud believes the key to victory on Sunday will be to push Alcaraz as far back as possible.
“If he steps in, he can do anything with the ball. He can rip a winner. He also has great touch with the dropshot,” said Ruud.
“But if you play with good depth and good length, it’s tougher to hit dropshots. That will be something that I will try to focus on.”
Having won just six games in his French Open final mauling at the hands of Nadal, the Norwegian is happy to be facing a different Spaniard.
“I’m happy that it’s not Rafa on clay,” he said.
Highlights from the semifinals
Paths to Sunday’s US Open men’s final (x denotes seeded player):
1st rd: bt Kyle Edmund (GBR) 6-3, 7-5, 6-2
2nd rd: bt Tim van Rijthoven (NED) 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
3rd rd: bt Tommy Paul (USA x29) 7-6 (7/3), 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/2), 5-7, 6-0
4th rd: bt Corentin Moutet (FRA) 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-2
QF: bt Matteo Berrettini (ITA x13) 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4)
SF: bt Karen Khachanov (x27) 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-2
1st rd: bt Sebastian Baez (ARG) 7-5, 7-5, 2-0 - retired
2nd rd: bt Federico Coria (ARG) 6-2, 6-1, 7-5
3rd rd: bt Jenson Brooksby (USA) 6-3, 6-3, 6-3
4th rd: bt Marin Cilic (CRO x15) 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3
QF: bt Jannik Sinner (ITA x11) 6-3, 6-7 (7/9), 6-7 (0/7), 7-5, 6-3
SF: bt Frances Tiafoe (USA x22) 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3
Inputs from AFP