Carlos Alcaraz stands just one win away from his maiden Grand Slam crown and the World No. 1 spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. The stakes will have never been higher for the Spaniard in Sunday’s championship match at the US Open, but that wasn’t going to stop the 19-year-old taking time to revel in the moment after defeating Frances Tiafoe in a thrilling semi-final on Friday night.
“Well, [the final] is close. But at the same time is so far away, you know?” said Alcaraz in the aftermath of his five-set win. “It’s a final of a Grand Slam, fighting for the No. 1 in the world, something that I dream since I was a kid.
“What [can I] say? It is the final of a Grand Slam. Right now, I’m going to enjoy this moment. My first Grand Slam final. I will have time tomorrow to think about [winning the title].”
After prevailing in a quarter-final classic against Jannik Sinner on Wednesday at Flushing Meadows, Alcaraz went the distance again on Friday against home favourite Tiafoe. It marked another stern test for the Spaniard’s Grand Slam credentials, but he held firm to set a championship match against Casper Ruud.
“It was incredible for me,” said Alcaraz. “I think I played great against Frances, who was playing unbelievable, as well, these two weeks. It’s an incredible feeling to be in a final, to be able to win this match after four hours, 20 minutes.
“I feel great right now. I mean, a little bit tired. But, yeah, I feel good, I feel great. Right now, I’m just so, so happy. I thought about a young man 10 years ago dreaming for this moment right now. Yeah, I’m feeling great.”
After letting slip a match point at 5-4 in the fourth set, Alcaraz held firm in the decider in the face of vociferous home support for Tiafoe. Yet the third seed was able to keep his focus on the considerable section of the crowd that was in his own corner as he relished the electric atmosphere on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Alcaraz let slip a match point when leading 5-4 in the fourth set against Tiafoe, after the American successfully chased down a drop shot from the Spaniard. Despite one of his trademark weapons costing him a point at a key moment, Alcaraz insists that his creativity is part of what has made him the player he is today.
“It was a tough moment for me, losing that match ball in that way, doing a dropshot that I could finish with a good forehand that I was hitting pretty well,” he said. “But I knew that I had to stay in the match, to stay calm, to stay playing well. I was playing well. But, yeah, it was a tough fourth set.
“I never give up, I try to fight for every point,” he added. “And some of those points help me to motivate myself, to smile and enjoy the moment. Sometimes you have to do a little magic, right?”
Alcaraz announced himself on the Grand Slam stage in New York a year ago, when he earned five-set wins against Peter Gojowczyk and Stefanos Tsitsipas before being forced to retire from his quarter-final against Felix Auger-Aliassime. Despite back-to-back five-setters against Jannik Sinner and Tiafoe in the past three days in New York, the 19-year-old is not worried about running out of steam for Sunday’s championship match against Casper Ruud.
“I would say now I’m more prepared,” said Alcaraz. “Last year I just played three Grand Slams before US Open, and I had just played, I’m going to say, one match [of] five sets.
“Now I’ve played more matches in five sets, I am more prepared mentally and physically. Yeah, it was 12 months of working hard in the gym, on the court. But I would say it’s all mental.”
Alcaraz’s next test is a third tour-level meeting against Ruud, who he defeated in straight sets in Miami in March to lift his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown. It is the Norwegian who enters Sunday’s clash with Grand Slam final experience, however, having reached the championship match at Roland Garros in July.
“I feel capable of beating him again,” said Alcaraz. “He has already played a Grand Slam final, and for me everything will be new. But everything new in my career I have faced in a good way. I hope to do the same on Sunday. I’m going to try to show my best version.”
With the winner set to become the new No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, the stakes have never been higher for Alcaraz or Ruud. Yet the Spaniard feels he has all the tools in place to handle the pressure.
“Right now I’m not afraid of that moment,” said Alcaraz. “I have prepared myself mentally and physically to be able to live that moment, to fight for great things. But now it’s time to recover and enjoy. Tomorrow will be the day to mentally prepare for the final”.