Words on Alcaraz's breakthrough, Swiatek's brilliance, Ruud, Jabeur and more

Carlos Alcaraz at Roland Garros
Carlos Alcaraz, the extraordinary new champion and world no.1 | Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

The 142nd US Open was a joyful affair as we saw scintillating rallies and ferocious determination from the world’s best.

Carlos Alcaraz secured his first major and simultaneously clinched the world no.1 spot on the final day while Iga Swiatek reaffirmed her status as by far the best player on the WTA tour.

There were also impressive runs from finalists Casper Ruud and Ons Jabeur, Frances Tiafoe and Caroline Garcia.

Let’s take a look back at some of the main storylines that caught my eye over the fortnight.

Obscene Alcaraz

Have you ever seen anything like Carlos Alcaraz? I haven’t and I’ve been following tennis closely for 20 years or so.

He’s the youngest world no.1 of all time and a major champion as a teenager. Alcaraz also has the distinction of being the youngest player to beat Djokovic and Nadal back-to-back, which he did at Madrid in May.

And despite the fact that he was only born when The Matrix Reloaded was in cinemas, Alcaraz has earned almost $10 million in tour prize money.

However, here’s what’s most impressive and frightening about the man from Murcia: he’s better at this stage of his career than Roger, Rafa or Novak were.

So long as he can stay healthy, who knows where the Spaniard’s career might lead?

Sublime Swiatek

Iga Swiatek at Roland Garros
Iga Swiatek is currently the queen of finals with 10 straight victories | Janet McIntyre/Shutterstock

In the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games of the early noughties, there was a practically unbeatable player you had to face known as ‘Sunday Tiger Woods’. It was a reference to the golf legend’s formidable reputation when it came to the close of a major.

Iga Swiatek isn’t a video game character, but her quality of play and record in finals is scarcely believable. In Saturday’s championship match, the 21-year-old’s level was otherworldly in the first set.

What’s so remarkable about Swiatek is that her game has an extremely solid foundation. At 80% capacity, she has high margins on her groundstrokes and superb defensive skills to fall back on. But when the Pole hits top gear - like the first set of the final - no one on the tour can live with her.

Swiatek's level dropped a bit in the second set and Jabeur tried everything to compete, but the result was the same as usual. Swiatek won her third major and 10th final in a row in straight sets.

Maybe there should be an unplayable character in a tennis game called ‘Saturday Swiatek’?

Ruud Respect

While the majority of attention and crowd support flowed towards Alcaraz on Sunday, it was wonderful to see Casper Ruud snag some of the spotlight with his own remarkable skill and application.

Casper Ruud at Roland Garros
Casper Ruud is no longer just a clay court maestro | Crosscourt View

It takes two to create incredible rallies and the Norwegian more than played his part. In the second set particularly, Ruud showed how devastating his own combination of fierce forehands and net approaches can be.

With his serene demeanour, professionalism, physical gifts and talent, we should expect Ruud to be a figure at majors for some time to come.

Jabeur Strides Ons

This is an easy one. Ons Jabeur had a brilliant fortnight and impressively dispatched Veronika Kudermetova, Ajla Tomljanovic and Caroline Garcia en route to her second major final.

Unfortunately for her, the WTA wrecking ball that is Swiatek awaited in the final. The Pole was untouchable in the first set but Jabeur did well to make the second a fight.

If it was someone other than the world no.1 in the final, I think Jabeur probably would have won. But with everything pointing in the right direction for the 28-year-old, I can easily see her finally lift a major next season.

Breakout For Big Foe?

The Flushing Meadows crowd loves attacking play, energy and a player from home. Over the fortnight, Frances Tiafoe embodied all of those elements.

In his exciting run to the last four, the 24-year-old was a nemesis to Spanish hopes in particular. He got the best win of his career over a tired looking Rafael Nadal, and then took the eventual champion to five sets in their semi-final.

Now up to a career high of no.19 in the ATP rankings, the question is: can the American kick on from here beyond the lights of the Big Apple?

Revival For Sabalenka?

2022 has been a rocky year for Aryna Sabalenka, but at least there were signs of hope in New York.

Aryna Sabalenka at Roland Garros
Has Aryna Sabalenka turned the corner on her patchy season? | Crosscourt View

Off the back of her best season to date in 2021, where she made back-to-back semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open and rose to no.2 in the world, this season went awry fast.

Sabalenka lost in the first round of her opening events in Australia and things have been patchy since. Strong runs in Stuttgart, Rome and ‘s-Hertogenbosch were accompanied by early exits at Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Roland Garros, Berlin and Toronto.

The biggest issue for the Belarusian has been her serve. While she can be erratic off the ground at the best of times, Sabalenka’s serve has primarily let her down through the season and she leads the WTA in double faults with a shocking 374.

But in New York, and Cincinnati beforehand, Sabalenka fought her way through to the business stages and pushed Swiatek in their semi-final. We’ll see if she gain more consistency into the new year.

Will Kyrgios Keep Up?

Will the 2022 US Open turn out to be the biggest missed opportunity of Nick Kyrgios’s career?

After opening up the top quarter with an impressive victory over defending champion Daniil Medvedev, the Australian then surprisingly fell in five sets to Karen Khachanov.

For all we know, this event might mark the dividing line between the era of the ‘Big Three’ and the time of Alcaraz et al. For Nick, the mighty Spaniard and Ruud will be further obstacles in his major path going forward.

Old Habits Die Hard For Garcia

Despite her wonderful talent and athleticism, Caroline Garcia’s singles career hasn't quite lived up to expectations due to a combination of nerves and erratic shotmaking at crucial times.

Caroline Garcia at Roland Garros
Despite the disappointment of the semi-final, Caroline Garcia is on the right path | Crosscourt View

This summer, the Frenchwoman entered the US Open in the form of her life having won eight straight matches in Cincinnati, from qualifying to the title.

That streak continued in Queens as the 28-year-old cruised through to the semis without dropping a set against the likes of Bianca Andreescu or Coco Gauff. Then came the unique challenge of Ons Jabeur.

The tricky Tunisian had all the right combinations to move Garcia around, change pace, and bring doubts to the surface. It worked a treat and the Frenchwoman exited listlessly with a 1-6 3-6 score line.

I’ve been a fan of Garcia for years and I hope that she can take the positives from her recent play and kick on. There still can be a major for her.

No Quarter Gained For Andrey

Poor Andrey Rublev must somewhat dread grand slams at this stage.

The Russian lost in straight sets to Tiafoe in the quarters and there’s hardly any shame in that result. However, it was the sixth time that Rublev exited a major in the last eight. He has never gone further.

For this writer, I still feel that Rublev’s lack of variety hinders his chances of really competing for grand slams.

Raducanu Reset

The pressure valve has been released…well almost.

Given Emma Raducanu’s notoriety, I don’t foresee a time in the near future where she won’t get enormous coverage, but at least the US Open run is in the rearview mirror and she can move on.

That said, while she got a brutal first round draw in the shape of giant killer Alizé Cornet, I hoped for Raducanu's sake that she’d snatch a few wins for confidence. Alas, it didn’t happen and the 19-year-old starts afresh this week at no.83 in the rankings.

Will she work her way back to the top 10 or settle somewhere in between? Let’s find out.

Stagnant Stefanos?

While attention was rightfully on all the super play and terrific runs from players in both singles draws, this was a dreadful outing for Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon
Stefanos Tsitsipas has never made it past the third round in New York | Crosscourt View

The Greek superstar bombed out of the first round in four sets to world no.94 Daniel Elahi Galan. He lost the first two sets 0-6 and 1-6.

Tsitsipas admitted afterwards that he “just couldn’t get into it” and played like “close to an amateur”. It hasn’t been too damaging in rankings terms as the 24-year-old only drops down to sixth.

But there must be some concern over his major record since that Roland Garros final in 2021. Since then, apart from his run to the last four in Melbourne, Tsitsipas has only made one fourth round.

Who Does It Serve?

As you probably know, the quarter-final between Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner was the latest finish (2.50am) and second longest match (5 hours, 15 minutes) in US Open history.

The match was superb of course, but why was it on so late? Who does it serve?

Both players had to return to their hotels at a ridiculous hour. For spectators, I’m sure it was difficult getting transport afterwards. And as for the broadcast, how many people watch tennis after midnight in the United States or through the night in Europe?

Night matches are an exciting aspect of the US Open but there surely should be a limit for when they finish for the good of everyone?

Serena Departs

Given her age and lack of matches, it wasn't a surprise to see Serena Williams depart early in the tournament. But the 23-time major winner still gave her best effort and took Ajla Tomljanovic to three sets before falling in the third round.

At this stage, everything has been said about the greatness of Williams and her career. If you'd like to hear my thoughts after her retirement annoucement, you can listen here to a piece I did for RTÉ 2FM's Game On.

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