9 Things I Think I Thought About Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Swiatek And The US Open
The 2022 Grand Slam season has come to end, and I think it’s safe to say it marks a new beginning. A long awaited beginning. The changing of the guard is finally here. And it’s good.
1. ALCARAZ ARRIVES
I think most of us knew it was coming, just not this fast. The kid couldn’t even get into main draws at the start of the last year and now Carlos Alcaraz is perched atop the men’s rankings after an incredible run at the US Open.
Granted, things have happened to help put him there, namely Novak Djokovic’s unvaxxed status and the Wimbledon ban, but Alcaraz still had to win three five setters, still had to play until nearly 3am during two wins, still had to save a match and still win the final when the world expected him to do just that. And he did.
At just 19, that’s a heckuva achievement. An achievement so rare that the last guy to do it was none other than Rafael Nadal, and the last guy at the US Open was Pete Sampras.
That’s some serious, serious company.
2. SPEED KILLS
It’s been said in many other sports but it applies to tennis just as much, and that’s speed kills. Alcaraz is proof. The teen gets a stick on just about every ball and over time that has a frustrating effect on the opposition. Ruud showed that frustration late in the match yesterday.
“Make the other guy hit one more shot”. Like his coach before, he’s doing just that with a little more flair and explosiveness.
Alcaraz’s combination of speed and power means he can also hit a winner from just about anywhere, and some of those winners are remarkable. He’s literally creating shots we didn’t even see from the Big 3.
And his dropshot is deadly not just because of the shot itself but because of the re-drop. He almost baits the opponent to re-drop because with his speed he can get there and put it away.
It’s breathtaking to watch.
3. ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Alcaraz remains raw around the edges. His shot selection is often suspect and head-scratching. He doesn’t seem to have full confidence in his serve and return in big moments, but the strokes, the speed, the power and his head are all there. He’s like a Ferrari that still needs a little recalibration.
Will he improve his consistency? Will he become a better returner or play smarter on bigger points? One would think so in time, but there’s no certainty.
He definitely has the momentum and the buzz, but that won’t win him 20+ Grand Slams, and he will have rivals…
4. THE CHALLENGERS
Yeah, the tennis world has already moved on from Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Matteo Berrettini and the list goes on. Sorry guys, there may be some truth in that.
While I do think guys like Andrey Rublev and Frances Tiafoe (despite his deep run in New York) and maybe Stefanos Tsitsipas might never reach Grand Slam trophy-winning heights, I do think there are still a lot of viable threats around.
Jannik Sinner has proved a worthy adversary and was just a swing from taking Alcaraz down. Auger-Aliassime has the game, Berrettini has the power, Medvedev has the smarts, Ruud has experience, Lorenzo Musetti already beat him over the summer and Taylor Fritz has the serve. Ben Shelton is still an unknown and we saw Yubing Wu make inroads in New York and Jack Draper seems like a powerhouse, and there will be more many more challengers to come.
Remember when Roger Federer began to dominate and then all of a sudden Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray all arrived.
The good news for Alcaraz is that he already has the Slam win off his back. He’s also won a Masters and of course reached No. 1. That pressure and expectations of achieving those feats is gone…for now. He’s in a grace period though I’m sure fans will expect him to win every match, every Slam, but that just won’t happen – I don’t think. However, if he doesn’t win more, then that pressure will return and return far, far greater than he’s ever felt. But we are some time away from that.
That said, he has a good team around him led for former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero who should keep him grounded and in check. But after such success at a young age, who knows how the kid handles all the fame and fortune and the spotlight. So far so good.
5. LET’S TALK WOMEN!
The men have Alcaraz, the women have Iga Swiatek. Just as good as Alcaraz on her side, and she could be even more dominant. She seems older but still is just 21 and already has three Grand Slams on two different surfaces and a 37-match win streak on her resume. Hell, I read somewhere she’s already qualified for the Tennis Hall of Fame!
Swiatek’s game lacks the raw power of a Serena Williams but she has the movement, intelligence and has that unteachable Roger Federer-like ability to close out big matches. That calm, killer instinct is there.
Incredibly, she’s won her last 10 finals and won them all in straight sets including a stirring US Open final over Ons Jabeur.
With Ash Barty and Serena retired and no real rivals, she could rule for a while. Coco Gauff leads the short list of true threats to her throne. There’s also a group of upcoming teenage Czech girls, Elena Rybakina is still young as is Naomi Osaka, though I’m not sure how committed the Japanese star is to winning anymore.
Otherwise, I just don’t see anyone in her category right now.
As long as Swiatek is healthy and motivated, she could easily pile up a few Slams a year.
6. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Farewell Big 3, farewell Serena, welcome to the future. What we watched the second week of the US Open was exactly that: a preview of the next 3-6 years.
I think Nadal might have one more French left, Djokovic could win two more next year and perhaps we see Federer back on the singles court again (maybe even this weekend, though I’ll believe it when I see it), but bottom line, time moves on and after several false positives, I think we have ae new pecking order with Alcaraz and Swiatek on top.
And those giving chase like Sinner and Coco are not too bad, either.
7. SERENA’S FIGHT
Serena Williams showed again why she is the GOAT. Just weeks from turning FOURTY-ONE, she’s out there with the world watching and beating down players half her age. That first week was incredible to see.
I know Anett Kontaveit isn’t the greatest, but Serena still beat the world No. 2!!! At her age in that stage with that pressure it was an unbelievable feat. And then to nearly beat Ajla Tomljanovic.
Afterward, Serena didn’t confirm she was done. She spoke like she knew that if she trained hard for six months she could actually contend. Will that happen, it doesn’t seem like. But it was an amazing way to finish an amazing career.
8. HE’S NOT RUDE
In a short sample size, is there a young player who gets it more than Casper Ruud? His post-loss recognition of 9/11 was heartfelt, his sportsmanship during the final (he gave a point to Alcaraz) and through was exemplary.
He seems like a genuine nice guy and plays the game the right way. Will that lead to Grand Slam titles, I don’t know. But he has learned a lot from his idol Rafael Nadal about how to go about doing business. It shows.
9. TOO LATE FOR PRIMETIME
Is there another that sport shoots itself in the foot more than tennis?
The US Open is by far the biggest tennis event in the U.S. People who don’t watch tennis here in America tune in. But yet tennis makes it so hard, so nearly impossible to let them watch in real-time the best and biggest moments.
Is there another sport on the planet that schedules events to start at 10pm or 11pm only to have them end at 2am local time?
Does the NFL make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field at 10:30pm? Does the NBA make the Lebron James and Los Angeles Lakers play at 11pm local time? Do the Yankees start games after 11pm in New York? Do premier league games start after 10pm?
Of course not.
But last week we saw over and over and over again matches starting well past 9pm and finishing well after midnight. How many ticket holders can stay up that late? And how many at home can make it to 2am with work the next day, or more importantly the kids who have school?
Imagine had that last hour of tennis between Alcaraz and Sinner been played at a more reasonable hour like between 11pm and midnight, or earlier.
And this isn’t confined to just New York. It happens in Australia and we are starting to see matches run late in Paris where they now have a 9pm night match.
While I do think night matches are essential to keep the sport going (from TV revenue), I also think the “show” needs to be packaged better.
We need to either schedule one men’s match at 7pm or make the men’s matches best-of-3. Or drop the lets and institute no-ad.
Something has to be done!
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