Carlos Alcaraz waves to the crowd after defeating Casper Ruud...

Carlos Alcaraz waves to the crowd after defeating Casper Ruud in the men’s single final of the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

When history happened, Carlos Alcaraz fell to the court and cupped his face with his hands. It was almost as if he knew that his future was so bright that for one brief moment, he wanted to block it all out, wanted to soak in the present one last time.

Alcaraz went from tennis’ Next Big Star to a Big Star, period, on Sunday at the U.S. Open. The Spaniard won his first Grand Slam title at the age of 19, defeating Casper Ruud, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3, in the final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Alcaraz becomes the youngest man ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world. He also becomes the youngest man to win a major title since fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal won at the same age at the 2005 French Open and the youngest to win the U.S. Open since 19-year-old Pete Sampras did it in 1990.

While the future is always impossible to predict, Sunday’s trophy presentation had the feeling of a coronation. It’s almost as if fans knew they had just witnessed one of those rare sports moments that they can tell their kids about. It was hard not to wonder if they had witnessed one of those star-is-born events similar to when Serena Williams won the first of her 23 Grand Slams at the Open in 1999.

“This is something I have dreamed of since I was a kid,” said Alcaraz, who, compared to most of the game’s elite, is still a kid. “To be in the role of champion of a Grand Slam. It’s tough to talk right now with all these emotions.”

Alcaraz’s route to his first Grand Slam win is the stuff of legend. Heading into the final, he had played three straight five-set matches. Two of them ended after 2:20 in the morning, including a quarterfinal that was the second-longest match in U.S. Open history, lasting 5 hours and 15 minutes.

Alcaraz just kept getting stronger as the tournament went on, perhaps a trick only a 19-year-old could pull off.

That resiliency took center stage in the match against the 23-year-old Norwegian Ruud, who also was looking to win his first Grand Slam title.

Ruud, who wisely went in with the strategy of trying to establish long points that would get Alcaraz to expend some energy, had Alcaraz looking tired in the second set, which Ruud won handily.

As he had done all tournament, though, Alcaraz shook off that loss, winning a tiebreaker in the third set and taking total control in the fourth, which he closed out with an ace.

The ascension of a charismatic young star could not come at a better time for tennis with the Big Three — Roger Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic — likely entering the end stages of their iconic careers.

OK, it’s hard to say that Nadal is in a full wind-down, given that he won the Australian Open and the French Open this year. Still, there seemed to be something almost symbolic in the fact that the Spanish legend was eliminated in the fourth round of a tournament that his young countryman won.

It may have fallen short of an official changing of the guard, but it might have given a measure of relief to Alcaraz, who has drawn heady comparisons to Nadal since he made his Grand Slam debut at the age of 17.

It didn’t matter that their styles are different or that Alcaraz keeps a photo of himself with Federer, not Nadal, on a shelf in his home. The fact that both are from Spain, both have a similar on-the-court temperament and both were considered prodigies when they broke into the game had meant that Alcaraz couldn’t shake the title of mini-Rafa no matter how many times he protested.

Now he might be able to.

Youngest players to win the U.S. Open men's singles title (Open era):

1. Pete Sampras, 1990: 19 years, 0 months, 28 days

2. Carlos Alcaraz, 2022: 19 years, 4 months, 6 days

3. Lleyton Hewitt, 2001: 20 years, 6 months, 13 days

4. John McEnroe, 1979: 20 years, 6 months, 24 days

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