Teenage Alcaraz Triumphs in the States: US Open 2022 Men’s Singles Review
With plenty of shocks and history being made, Paul Morrison takes an extensive look back on an incredible US Open.
19 year-old Carlos Alcaraz made history by becoming the first teenager to top the ATP world rankings with his success at the US Open. The Spaniard defeated Norway’s Casper Ruud to lift the trophy in what was a very eventful tournament at the last Grand Slam of the year with plenty of action to reflect on.
Round One: Two Top 10 Players Crash Out Early
The defending champion Daniil Medvedev kicked off the tournament with his eyes on a second major title in New York, following last year’s victory over Novak Djokovic. Djokovic was unable to partake in the Open due to the US Government’s not allowing non-American citizens who weren’t fully vaccinated against Covid-19 into the country. Medvedev made light work of unseeded American Stefan Kozlov, winning convincingly in straight sets.
Rafael Nadal was entering the US Open having still gone unbeaten through the three other majors this year, having lifted titles in Melbourne and Paris before reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals where he withdrew due to injury. It was the Spaniard’s first appearance back at Flushing Meadows since his 2019 triumph and despite losing the first set, saw off wild card Rinky Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 to progress.
Golden boy Carlos Alcaraz was coming into New York in fine form and continued with a 2-0 victory over Sebastián Báez, with the Argentinian retiring before the third set. The ever-controversial Nick Kyrgios progressed with a straight sets victory over Thanasi Kokkinakis, his doubles teammates who he would reach the third round with in the US Open.
There were a couple of shocks within the tournament, with two players in the top 10 crashing out in the first round. Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was defeated by a very impressive Daniel Elahi Galán, with the Colombian shocking the Greek 6-0, 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 to advance. American number one Taylor Fritz (10) entered the US Open with high expectations but fell at the hands of fellow American Brandon Holt 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Elsewhere in round one, Jannik Sinner (11) and Pablo Carreño Busta (12) progressed fairly comfortably whilst British quartet Cameron Norrie (7), Dan Evans (20), Andy Murray and Jack Draper all cruised through the first round in straight sets. Kyle Edmund was convincingly beaten by fifth seed Casper Ruud, who was one of a few players looking to become world number one after the competition.
Round Two: British Squad of Four March On
The second round had similar performances from top seeds Medvedev and Nadal as they advances through alongside Alcaraz who was quicjly gathering momentum and being tipped as a favourite to win it all.
Nick Kyrgios continued his strong start with a well-fought victory over Benjamin Bonzi of France in four sets. The Australian was enjoying one of the most successful spells of his career so far – only a year on from hinting about the possibility of hanging up the racket after the Laver Cup.
Matteo Berrettini and Ruud both stormed back from a set down to progress to the third round, while Sinner and Russian Andrey Rublev (9) went through with straight set victories. Five American players won their respected second round matches as Frances Tiafoe (22), Tommy Paul (26), Jenson Brooksby, Brandon Nakashima and J.J. Wolf (WC) continued to wave the flag for the home fans.
It was starting to become a very strong tournament for the British players after Norrie, Evans, Murray and Draper all making it to the round of 32. Jack Draper done particularly well to defeat last year’s semi-finalist Félix Auger-Aliassime (6) in straight sets in another of the Open’s upsets.
The other headline of the second round saw Hubert Hurkacz (8) crash out to the Belorussian Ilya Ivashka, becoming the fourth top 10 player to be eliminated.
Round Three: One Brit Stands and Incredible Battle at Grandstand
Top seed Medvedev started the third round with another masterclass over Chinese qualifier Wu Yibing who had the unfortunate task of playing the in-form Russian. The world number one earned his spot in the second week of the tournament with a routine 6-4 6-2 6-2 win.
The most impressive victory of the round would end up going to Rafael Nadal after his dismantling of Richard Gasquet. Nadal was back to his best, only giving up one game from the first two sets, with a 7-5 victory in the third seeing him through to round four for the 12th time.
Carlos Alcaraz joined the top seeds in blasting through his tie with one of America’s brightest talents Jenson Brooksby in straight sets 6-3 6-3 6-3. Casper Ruud pulled through in a brilliant contest with Tommy Paul which went the distance after the American got a late breakoff serve to take the fourth set. The Norwegian took complete control of the decider with a ‘bagel’ set to which Paul couldn’t keep up with Ruud winning 7-6(3) 6(5)-7 7-6(2) 5-7 6-0 in the end.
The highlight of the round undoubtedly came at Grandstand where Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov (19) played out the match of the tournament so far. A 10-point tie break in the last round saw Rublev see off the Canadian in front of a very vocal crowd.
Cameron Norrie was the only British player to survive the third round by seeing off young Dane Holger Rune in straight sets while Dan Evans and Andy Murray fell in four sets to Marin Čilić and Matteo Berrettini respectively. Jack Draper was forced to retire from his tie with Karen Khachanov.
The other top names to make it through included Nick Kyrgios, Jannik Sinner and Frances Tiafoe, with the latter defeating Diego Schwartzman (14).
Round Four: Top Two Seeds Fall and Four Five-Set Contests
The fourth round gave us a batch of must-watch ties to determine who would go through to the final eight.
One of the top clashes was Daniil Medvedev’s toughest test yet against Nick Kyrgios. The pair were level in head-to-heads in 2022 with the Russian winning on route to the Australian Open Final in front of Kyrgios’ adoring support in Melbourne while revenge was secured in the round-of-32 at Montréal.
A tight first two sets saw the game level but the Australian Kyrgios would step it up in the next two sets to eliminate the then World Number 1. This result meant the reigning champion would lose his number one status to either one of Alcaraz, Ruud or Nadal.
Fellow Spaniards Pablo Carreño Busta and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina would also crash out in round four, whilst Carlos Alcaraz progressed in a five-set thriller against the only Grand Slam winner left in the draw, Marin Čilić. Jannik Sinner also went through a tough five-set affair with Ilya Ivashka where the Italian claimed the crucial breakthrough in a final set full of twists.
The fourth round would be as good as it got for Cameron Norrie who couldn’t seem to get his game going as he was outplayed by Andrey Rublev in straight sets with the Brit unable to gain any momentum or consistency throughout the two-and-a-half-hour match. Casper Ruud continued his quest to become world number one with a four set victory over Corentin Moutet of France to qualify for his second major quarter final of the year.
Quarterfinals: The Undisputed Match of the Year
The round of eight had set up four eagerly anticipated clashes, with the next battle in the Alcaraz-Sinner saga stealing the headlines.
Arthur Ashe was the venue for the must-watch quarter final, which was their third meeting of the year with Sinner winning both matches. Alcaraz took the 50-minute opening set with a late break before the Italian drew back level in a tight tiebreak. The match only surpassed two hours after this second set as the fans were treated to a classic between two of the top young players in the game.
Another tiebreak put Sinner in the lead where he missed the chance to end it in the fourth set, missing a match point at 5-4 on the Spaniard’s serve. Alcaraz would break back to steal the set 7-5 before storming back in the final set to bring the game to a sensational and dramatic close, becoming the latest ever match finish at the US Open.
Many have hailed the immense epic as the best match of the year, with reporter Ben Rothenberg tweeting as so “by a considerable distance” and was a great advert for the game with these two stars performing to the highest level even after five hours of play on the big stage, as the future “looked dreamy and bright”.
The clash between Karen Khachanov and Nick Kyrgios also went the distance with Khachanov breaking early in the final set to take the momentum and ultimately the victory. The win gave the Russian his first Grand Slam semi-final, while Kyrgios exploded in frustration and smashed a set of rackets before leaving the court.
Casper Ruud and Matteo Berrettini was another quarterfinal expected to produce a stunning battle, but it was over in a mere two and a half hours.
Frances Tiafoe continued his fairytale run with a straight sets victory over then fifth seed Andrey Rublev. The first two sets were both taken by the American in tiebreaks, winning the second to love, and with a break of serve at 3-3 in the third, Tiafoe brought it home with an ace on match point in front of the rampant home crowd.
Semi-Finals: End of Tiafoe Fairytale as Alcaraz and Ruud Start to Dream
The focus on the tournament switched completely to the race for the world number one, as Casper Ruud and Karen Khachanov took to the court for the first semi-final of the day. No one was able to predict how the opening set would go as there were back-to-back breaks of serve twice in the leadup to the tiebreak which Ruud edged 7-5. It got even better for the fifth seed when he won five consecutive games to go within a set of a shot at the US Open title.
It looked like set three was on course for a tiebreak as both players held their service games up to 5-5 when Ruud’s double fault and unforced errors gifted Khachanov the set. A repeat of the second set saw Ruud take two breaks in a row to have the chance to serve out to book his spot in the final, which was taken after unforced errors from the Russian and a forehand winner to end the three-hour fight.
It was then time for Tiafoe, backed by the packed Arthur Ashe crowd to face the tough test in facing Alcaraz who was now the favourite for the US Open trophy. Neither player showed any pressure throughout the first set, with each only having one break point opportunity which wasn’t executed. What followed was a close tiebreak which Tiafoe eventually snapped after a double fault from Alcaraz which sent Arthur Ashe into a wave of celebration.
Alcaraz came back at the American to take a break, where he managed to get over the line and saving break points on his own serve to even the match up after an hour and fifty minutes of drama. The Spaniard went into turbo mode to blast through set three in just over half an hour that saw him break Tiafoe’s serve three times and closer to victory.
Just as Alcaraz looked to be running away with the fourth set, Tiafoe experienced a short period of brilliance to recover from being a break down. Saving a match point at 5-4, he then took the fourth set to a tiebreak which he won again to set up a fight to the finish line. Losing the tiebreak meant Alcaraz would play a five-set contest for the third match in a row. Questions of Alcaraz becoming fatigued were soon put to bed with a mature performance in the final set seeing him win 6-3 with three breaks of serve and advancing to the final.
A tearful Frances Tiafoe thanked the crowd for their immense support and made it clear that he’d be back and win the title one day. As for Alcaraz and the upcoming final, not only would a first Grand Slam title be on the line, but also the possibility of becoming world number one.
The Final: A New King of the Tennis World is Crowned
Despite being on court for roughly four hours more due to his three five-set thrillers, Alcaraz came into the match still expected to win as favourite. The Spaniard would take the early lead, with Ruud having a shaky start, gifting Alcaraz a dozen break points in the first set.
In the latter stages of set two, Ruud pounced and won four games in a row to claw back at Alcaraz. The fifth seed was very close to nipping the third set at 6-5 but was unable to convert two break points to close in on being just one set away. This missed chance would come back to bite him as he hit six unforced errors to hand Alcaraz the advantage and take the tiebreak 7-1.
One break point at 3-2 was all that Alcaraz needed to put himself in a position to become the newest winner of a major and establish himself as the best player in the world. Ruud done well to put pressure on the Spaniard, but he handled it as if it were nothing to set up two championships and sealing a maiden Grand Slam with a service winner.
The result made Carlos Alcaraz the youngest ever ATP number one ranked player, kickstarting what looks set to be a glittering career. Casper Ruud would have to settle for a still incredible second on the rankings, but will be thinking over what could have been.
Both players paid their respects to the 9/11 attacks in their ceremonial speeches, having played the final on September 11th, 19 years on. Rafael Nadal led the tributes for Alcaraz, who will be difficult to stop from becoming the leading man in this new era of tennis.