The stakes could not be higher in Sunday’s Flushing Meadows final between Spanish teenaged phenomenon Carlos Alcaraz and Norwegian Casper Ruud, with the U.S. Open trophy and the world number one ranking awaiting the winner.
The showdown between the two breakout players of 2022 is a fitting conclusion to the year’s final major, which showcased the sport’s bright future as it transitions out of the era of the Big Three of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
French Open runner-up Ruud called the winner-takes-all conclusion an “ideal situation” after he beat Russian Karen Khachanov in four sets in Friday’s semi-final.
The superhuman Alcaraz, who survived three successive five-set marathons to arrive at the precipice of Grand Slam glory, said his vision was coming into focus.
“It’s close, but at the same time is so far away, you know?” Alcaraz told reporters after beating American Frances Tiafoe on Friday night.
“It’s a final of a Grand Slam, fighting for the number one in the world, something that I dreamed (of) since I was a kid.”
The 19-year-old Spaniard has beaten Ruud in both of their previous meetings, including a straight sets win in the Miami Open final in April.
“I know him very well,” Alcaraz said.
“We shared a lot of moments in the tournaments. Of course, he’s a very nice guy off the court. I talk with him a lot, when we can.
“I played him twice. I beat him twice. He’s playing really, really well. I know that. I will have to show my best.”
Ruud knows that he faces an uphill task in toppling the on-fire Alcaraz, who has won four titles this year, including Masters trophies in Miami and Madrid.
“If I want to beat Carlos, I’ll need to play very precise with all the shots that I hit, especially try to keep him a little bit further back in the court,” he said.
“If he steps in, he can do anything with the ball. He can rip a winner. He also has great touch with the drop shot… he can do both shots back and forth. He will get you off guard sometimes with the drop shot.”
With the eyes of the tennis world on them, the mental battle could be just as important as any tactical decisions, Ruud said.
“We’re playing for the tournament and also world number one. Of course, there will be nerves and we will both feel it,” he said.
“I hope it will be a good match. He has beaten me a couple times and I will seek my revenge.”