There’s more than a US Open title on the line Sunday in New York: The man who wins the final will also become the world’s No. 1 player.
Will it be Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old phenom who will look to join Pete Sampras as the only teenage males to win the US Open since 1968? Or will it be Casper Ruud, who made it all to the way to the French Open final earlier this year before losing to Rafael Nadal? Our experts weigh in.
What can Alcaraz do to defeat Ruud?
Cliff Drysdale: Alcaraz needs to wait for the right moment to use his knockout punch and not be too eager to finish the point too soon.
Luke Jensen: Ice bath! Recovery will be mission critical to have the body able to flush out the lactic acid from the sore muscles after three long five-set matches. If the kid can move, he can win.
Alexandra Stevenson: It’s all about how Alcaraz recovers from multiple five-set matches. If he’s fully recovered, he beats Rudd, who is consistently solid. The mental game will matter to Alcaraz. Easy mistakes happen on court when your body is tired. Body and mind — that will be the two components for Alcaraz to win.
Tom Hamilton: He shouldn’t change a thing. Whatever he’s done here at the US Open has worked. Despite reaching the final off the back of three straight five-set matches, each lasting late into the night, Alcaraz’s body is showing no signs of fatigue. So stick at it.
But if he’s to learn from his previous Grand Slam exits this year, he needs to start well against Ruud. Back in Roland Garros, he started slowly against Alexander Zverev and was made to pay the price. The same happened against Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon. He went two sets down and just couldn’t haul himself back in — later saying nerves also affected his game.
So starting well is absolutely essential. He fell a set down in the semifinal with Tiafoe — he can’t let that happen again.
D’Arcy Maine: Exactly what he’s been doing to beat everyone else throughout this tournament — fight for every single point as if the match depended on it and never let his foot off the gas pedal. He’s a relentless fighter who simply doesn’t know how to quit (I’m still not quite over that point from the first set against Tiafoe) and even when he gets down, he finds ways to get back into the match. Sure, he might have some nerves going into his first major final, but if he can get those in check — and there’s no reason to think he won’t — he just needs to play his game and this is his title to win.
Aishwarya Kumar: Alcaraz needs to do what he’s been doing really well all tournament long: He needs to return well on Ruud’s serve and run every ball down. He needs to make Ruud return that extra ball during his serve, constantly putting him under pressure. And, he needs to hold serve. He has been struggling a bit with holding serve after going up a break, and that would be key with Ruud, who will not give him many chances to break.
What can Ruud do to defeat Alcaraz?
Drysdale: Ruud is not a risk-taker by nature, but needs to change that in this match.
Jensen: Ruud must be effective on his serve. This is a combination of aces, unreturnable and easy-plus-one-putaways. Alcaraz is so effective from the return side of the court, and in the previous matches Ruud was rocked by the Alcaraz return game.
Stevenson: Rudd has had a high service percentage. He has an indomitable baseline wall of consistency. Remember the 55-ball rally against Karen Khachanov? Alcaraz will have to bring the shots to break Rudd down.
Maine: It’s going to be tough for Ruud to stop the runaway train that is Alcaraz right now, but he is fortunate enough to have some experience playing against the 19-year-old in a hard-court final: The two met in Miami in April with the trophy on the line.
Alcaraz won that match in straight sets but it still gives Ruud some clues of what he will have to be prepared for. After his semifinal win on Thursday, Ruud said he would need to “play very precise with all the shots that I hit, especially try to keep [Alcaraz] a little bit further back in the court, to play with good depth and length on all my shots.”
This is Ruud’s second major final, so in terms of knowing what to expect, he certainly has the edge. This could help him early in the match in particular. Alcaraz had a slow start in Miami, and Ruud will have to find a way to not only repeat that, but to not let that momentum slip away.
Hamilton: Ruud has to draw on everything he learned from that defeat in the Roland Garros final to Rafael Nadal. He has the big match experience at a Slam, which Alcaraz will be testing for the first time, and whatever he can glean from that will be key come Sunday.
He also must maintain that same consistency he found on his serve against Khachanov. He only served one double fault during that match and won 83% of points on his first serve. If he also harnesses the full power of his forehand, he’ll cause Alcaraz all manner of difficulty as Khachanov found out in their semifinal.
“His main weapon is his forehand, going around, accelerating the ball, having one of the heaviest top spins on tour,” Khachanov said postmatch. “He improved his backhand as well. He’s not missing that many balls.”
Kumar: Ruud has an incredible forehand and he increases the speed of the ball with his top spin. Alcaraz is very good at that too, so if Ruud can go on the offense, attacking Alcaraz’s second serve with his forehand, I think he could break Alcaraz’s serve consistently. If he accomplishes that, we have a match on our hands. Plus, don’t forget that Ruud also runs the court, makes you return one extra ball, so if he can push Alcaraz around the court early on in the match, considering the fact that Alcaraz has been on the court around 14 hours in just the past three rounds, I could see him getting a little tired here and there.
Who do you think will win?
Drysdale: Alcaraz, in four sets.
Jensen: Alcaraz is a man of destiny. If the body is still able to respond to long rallies, he can win. Alcaraz has a tremendous temperament and is ready to be world No. 1.
Stevenson: Alcaraz wins, if he performs his show-stopping, magnificent athleticism, combining that unbelievable court magic with astounding confidence. He will become No. 1 in the world and the best player in the 2022 US Open.
Hamilton: Everything favors Alcaraz, and it’s hard to look past all the stats weighted in his favor. He holds the 2-0 lead over Ruud in previous meetings (6-2, 6-4 in Marbella on clay in 2021; 7-5, 6-4 in Miami this year on hard court), and though he’s played three straight five-set matches, I think he just has too much magic in that racket for Ruud. Expect this to have a few twists and turns and for Ruud to win the first set, but I fully expect Alcaraz to end up with the trophy come Sunday evening — and the No. 1 ranking.
Maine: Alcaraz. Ruud has had a great tournament, and season, but Alcaraz’s victory feels almost inevitable at this point. Entering the final with three consecutive five-set matches, against high-quality opponents, he is fueled with self-belief and knows exactly what he’s capable of. Sunday will be the first of many major titles for Alcaraz.
Kumar: Alcaraz is a special player, a once-in-a generation player. He can do pretty much everything — he is comfortable on the baseline, he loves coming up to the net, he switches it up, he serves well. If anything, he has way too many tools in his tool kit. And, his tenacity throughout this tournament has been impressive, three back-to-back five setters to reach the final, two of which he had to come back from a break down in the fifth set.
As he says, he believes in himself every single second on the court, and it really shows. He shakes it off mentally when he’s down, and he converts defense to offense beautifully. I can’t wait to watch him lift his first Grand Slam trophy come Sunday.