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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - A historic US Open has come to a close, one that started with a 40-year-old legend bidding the sport farewell and ended with a teenager becoming the youngest world No. 1 in ATP history.
Here’s what we learned from the past fortnight in New York.
Future of men’s tennis in good hands
The 23,000-strong crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday was so hyped for Carlos Alcaraz, he was getting standing ovations for shots he almost made.
The Spaniard had already given New York a taste of what he can do when he marched to the US Open quarterfinals last year as an 18-year-old ranked 55 in the world.
Fast-forward 12 months and Alcaraz has become the youngest world No. 1 in ATP history and has clinched a maiden Grand Slam title, fulfilling two lifelong dreams in the City of Dreams.
En route to the US Open crown, Alcaraz dazzled spectators with his turbo-charged movement, flashy shot-making, unshakeable mental strength, and oozing charisma.
He fought through three consecutive five-setters before reaching the final and then played Casper Ruud like he wasn’t fatigued and as if history wasn’t on the line.
“He’s one of these few rare talents that comes up every now and then in sports,” said Ruud of the 19-year-old.
John McEnroe described Alcaraz as “the best thing to happen to tennis in a long time” and that assessment seems pretty unanimous among anyone who has watched him play.
With Novak Djokovic unable to contest the US Open due to his vaccination status that prevents him from entering the US, and Rafael Nadal falling to 24-year-old Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round, the fortnight in New York gave way for the younger generation to make a statement and they certainly delivered.
Tiafoe had former First Lady Michelle Obama and the rest of the stadium on the edges of their seats as he dueled with Alcaraz in the semifinals.
Alcaraz and 21-year-old Jannik Sinner played one of the highest-quality tennis matches in recent history in the quarterfinals, which saw the former save a match point on his way to a five-set triumph.
The level of that contest was so surreal, Alcaraz’s coach Juan Carlos Ferrero believes the duo will dominate tennis for the next 10 years.
If men’s tennis seemed like it was going to be in trouble in the post-Big Three era, this US Open provided ample proof it’ll be just fine.
Swiatek setting a high bar
World No. 1 Iga Swiatek is so far ahead in the rankings, she has more points than the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 combined.
The 21-year-old picked up a third Grand Slam title, second of the year, and first on hard courts, by defeating Tunisian Ons Jabeur in the final.
At a tournament where she didn’t feel or play her best, openly disliked the balls, and hit an enormous 197 unforced errors through seven matches, Swiatek once again separated herself from the pack and showed she has a solution for every problem she faces on a match court.
The young Pole beat three top-10 players in a row en route to the US Open crown and has now won her last 10 consecutive finals, in straight sets.
Swiatek has proven to be a phenomenal heir to Ashleigh Barty’s throne. Her record in finals and the seven titles she has won this season alone are reason enough for her to feel invincible. She will try her hardest not to embrace that feeling though.
“I still have to realize that it’s tough out there, so I want to stand on the ground, kind of, stay on the ground,” she told reporters on Saturday.
Jabeur and Ruud’s time will come
They may have walked away with runner-up plates instead of champion trophies but Jabeur and Ruud have every reason to believe they can win majors.
They have reached two Grand Slam finals each this season and put up respectable fights in their title deciders in New York over the weekend.
Jabeur and Ruud both leave the US Open ranked No. 2 in the world and with something to chase.
Given how they’ve steadily progressed so far, it’s hard to imagine they won’t get over the final hurdle at the majors one day.
Serena’s legacy palpable across both tours
If the US Open was indeed the last professional tournament of Serena Williams’ career, then it’s fair to say it was a fitting finale.
The American legend, who had barely played any matches in over a year, got through her first two rounds, knocking out No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit along the way, before succumbing to Ajla Tomljanovic with a battling performance in the last-32 stage.
The buildup to the tournament as well as opening week was all about Serena and it gave everyone a chance to pay tribute to the 40-year-old and her unquantifiable legacy.
Players Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Tiafoe were in the stands for her matches, irrespective of how it affected their own schedules.
Tiafoe walked on and off court in a Serena “GOAT" hoodie for all his clashes.
Swiatek mustered up the courage to finally walk up to her and ask for a photo. Yes, that’s world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Everywhere you looked around the grounds at the US Open, you could see people she inspired to become professional players.
Madison Brengle said her career was extended by at least a couple of years because Serena wore a catsuit to the French Open, which urged officials to change the rules and allow women to compete in full-length leggings.
Brengle, who had melanoma and needed to wear long pants for skin protection while competing, says she would have stopped playing tennis had it not been for Serena and her catsuit.
Osaka and Gauff say they wouldn’t have picked up a racquet without the influence of Serena and Venus Williams.
Tomljanovic felt so conflicted after she defeated Serena in the third round because she had just ended the career of someone she idolized her whole life.
If this US Open taught us anything, it’s that Serena is never going to disappear from tennis. She is everywhere around us on tour in the spirit of the countless people she inspired.
Ranking jumps for Gauff, Kyrgios
The 18-year-old Gauff makes her top-10 debut on Monday on the heels of reaching the US Open quarterfinals.
The American teenager, who reached the French Open final in June, continues to impress both on the court with her constantly improving game, and off it with her eloquent and wise statements in her press conferences. The new world No. 8 is in the fourth spot on the Race to the WTA Finals and looks poised for a debut appearance in the prestigious season finale.
Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios returns to the top-20 for the first time since February 2020. The Wimbledon finalist was devastated after losing to Karen Khachanov in the US Open quarters and feels like he missed out on a chance to win his first major. Still, he backed up his Wimbledon run with a title in Washington D.C. and a strong showing in New York. He’ll be incredibly dangerous at the Australian Open in four months’ time.
Other notable jumps include Jessica Pegula’s rise to a career-high No. 5 and Tiafoe’s top-20 debut.
Narratives shifting across both tours
For the last few years, people have wrongfully criticized the WTA tour for the lack of a dominant force at the top. Meanwhile, the men’s circuit had the seemingly everlasting presence of the “Big Three” to rely on, which was exciting for their fans but equally predictable.
With Swiatek now emerging as a consistent threat on the women’s side — scooping seven titles in 2022, including two majors — and Jabeur making back-to-back Slam finals and capturing trophies in Madrid and Berlin, it’s impossible to label the WTA as volatile anymore.
A look at the men’s quarterfinals lineup at the US Open, which featured players aged 27 and under, indicates the ATP will soon enter a period of volatility, with draws becoming more and more open and big titles up for grabs.
While three of the four majors in 2022 were still won by Nadal and Djokovic, Alcaraz’s breakthrough could open the floodgates. ATP fans had better embrace the chaos; they’ll realize it’s actually fun.
There’s more in the Spanish pipeline, history for the Philippines
In the juniors at the US Open, Spain’s Martin Landaluce clinched the boys’ singles crown, while Alexandra Eala made history as the first player from the Philippines to win a Grand Slam junior singles title.
Both players train at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain, and cite the 22-time major champion as their biggest inspiration.
Add to that the fact that Ruud has been practicing at Nadal’s academy for several years as well and you realize it’s been quite the tournament for Mallorca.
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