Two epic weeks at the US Open concluded with Carlos Alcaraz defeating Casper Ruud in four sets to capture his first Grand Slam and earn the world’s No. 1 ranking.
While tennis never stops — the Davis Cup is this week and Alcaraz confirms he will play — let’s pause after the year’s final major to go through four observations.
The Future is Now
With Novak Djokovic unable to play, Roger Federer injured and Rafael Nadal on a major downswing (more on that below), the US Open was wide open for the first time in a long time.
Would Alcaraz break through at just 19 years of age? Was Nick Kyrgios capable of winning a major? Was Daniil Medvedev really the true favorite? And how about the likes of Jannik Sinner, Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas?
Not only did we get the answers to those questions, but we learned the future is right now.
When Djokovic returns, he’ll still be the best player in the tennis for the time being, but at 35 years old, how long the Serbian has at a high level is an obvious question.
What we do know is Alcaraz and Sinner will be fighting in majors for a long, long time, and their time is now.
Alcaraz is a rare breed. Not only does he have unbelievable court coverage, wicked groundstrokes and a flashy style of play, but he has rare mental toughness. What 19-year-old kid would be able to win three straight five-set matches and still win a Grand Slam? What player in general — regardless of age — would be able to even win three straight five-setters like he did?
Alcaraz is the answer, and that mental toughness and grit is the reason why.
Meanwhile, Sinner is right up there with the Spaniard. Remember, the Italian beat Alcaraz on two other surfaces this season, and was this close to beating him on another at the US Open.
Sinner needs to work on his second serve (as does Alcaraz), but his ball striking is elite. While he gets very streaky throughout matches, his mental toughness — like Alcaraz — is very strong at 21 years old.
Ruud is “old” compared to Alcaraz and Sinner, but he’s just 23 years of age, too. The Norwegian reached his second Grand Slam final of the season, thanks to his efficient play from the baseline, consistent serve and level-headed mindset. He isn’t flashy like Alcaraz and Sinner, but he’ll be right there with those two in majors for years to come.
Then there’s Frances Tiafoe, who came out of nowhere to make a semifinal run. He too is still growing at just 24 (more on him below).
Those four proved they can play at a high level at a major event, but that’s without factoring in an injured Alexander Zverev and two players who were bounced in the first round of the tournament, Taylor Fritz and Tsitsipas.
I don’t believe that Zverev and Tsitsipas have the mental edge that Alcaraz and Sinner do, however, their talent and abilities are undeniable, which will keep them in the top 5-to-10, at the minimum.
Overall, we’re seeing the transition of tennis from the Big 3 to the “Rising Youngsters” right before our very eyes.
American Tennis Renaissance is Here to Stay
The revival of American tennis was a massive discussion before the start of this year’s US Open, and it lived up to it’s billing in Queens.
Tiafoe became the first American to advance to the US Open semifinals in 16 years, and came within one set of advancing to the final.
Now, the Americans still own a near 20-year drought without a major championship — Andy Roddick in 2003 — but they are inching closer and closer to breaking the mark due to the depth of the current group.
Tiafoe is an obvious contender. This run will do wonders for his confidence, as he has been inconsistent and unable to put his game fully together in the past. His serve was firing on all cylinders in this event and his clutch gene was evident by his 8-0 tiebreaker record.
He beat Nadal, Andrey Rublev and Diego Schwartzman, and dropped just one set in the tournament before his semifinal match against Alcaraz.
But Tiafoe is not the only American to be excited about after the US Open.
While Tommy Paul lost in the third round, he pushed Ruud — a finalist — to five sets. He had a brilliant summer, as well, defeating Alcaraz and Marin Cilic in Montreal and earning a career-high No. 29 ranking.
Brandon Nakashima also lost in the third round, but he took a set off Sinner and looked capable of pushing the Italian further. If Naka can continue to serve like he did against Grigor Dimitrov, the American can back up his already strong baseline game and elite level-headedness.
And even Jenson Brooksby played Alcaraz tough in Round 3.
While just one American (Tiafoe) reached the Round of 16 and Fritz lost in his opening match, the potential is there for American tennis, and the revival is real. Expect players like Tiafoe, Fritz, Paul, Nakashima, Brooksby, Sebastian Korda, Maxime Cressy and Reilly Opelka to continue to rise and be a factor in big tournaments.
Who will ultimately rise from the pack? That remains to be seen, but as of now, it’s definitely Tiafoe, Fritz (despite his poor US Open performance), Paul and Nakashima.
Nick Kyrgios Not Ready to Win Big One
There was a lot of buzz about Kyrgios coming into this event.
And it was well deserved.
Kyrgios finally seemed to be piecing things together. He reached the Wimbledon final earlier this season, won the Citi Open in D.C. and lost a total of two matches between his trip to The All England Club and the US Open.
The antics were getting more rare (beyond screaming at his player’s box), and he truly looked focus and determined for the first time in his career.
Kyrgios produced arguably the greatest match he’s ever played in the Round of 16 against then-world No. 1 Medvedev, obliterating the Russian with untouchable groundstrokes and his serve. He was getting the crowd involved and looked like he was truly ready to compete for a Grand Slam title.
But that turned out to be wrong. Nick is not ready to lift a trophy at a massive event like the US Open.
Why? Because with all the expectations on his shoulders (the new betting favorite and a clear path to a possible title), he flopped in the quarterfinals, losing in five sets to Karen Khachanov.
Now, it’s not Kyrgios losing that makes me say this — it’s how he lost. He lacked energy. There was little to no motivation. He failed to get the New York night crowd involved when it was obvious they wanted to erupt for the Aussie. He seemed to be dealing with some type of injury in the opening set, but the stage looked a little too bright for Kyrgios.
It pains me to make this statement because Kyrgios — despite what people say on social media — still cares. It’s obvious he wants to win now more than any other point in his career, especially at the Grand Slams.
But that doesn’t mean he is ready to win a Grand Slam. Maybe next year he will be — as this transition continues — but for now, Kyrgios has to settle with having a wonderful season.
And that doesn’t sound so terrible for the Aussie after all.
Major Concerns With Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal is one of the best players of all-time — if not the best — and an obvious future Hall of Famer.
But I tell it how I see it, and right now, Nadal isn’t at a championship level.
Yes, he won the French Open and reached the Wimbledon semifinals before retiring due to an injury, but ever since then, he’s looked mortal. The 36-year-old has battled a plethora of injuries over the last few years and doesn’t have nearly enough of the fitness he used to possess.
Nadal lost to Borna Coric in his opening match at Cincinnati, essentially giving away a tiebreaker in the first set thanks to a plethora of errors.
He also lost in the Round of 16 at the US Open by looking a couple steps slower than Tiafoe. Even before that loss, Nadal dropped a set to No. 198-ranked Rinky Hijikata in the first round and lost the first set against a 35-year-old Fabio Fognini in Round 2.
Let’s not forget, Nadal was also very beatable at Wimbledon. Beyond cruising past Lorenzo Sonego in Round 3, the Spaniard lost sets to Francisco Cerundolo and Ricardas Berankis, and struggled against Fritz before suffering an injury.
This is bad news for a player that sees Alcaraz, Sinner and others rising all while Djokovic remains at a world No. 1-level. Will Nadal be able to recover at the late stages of his career? That is truly TBD for the first time ever.