Timing is everything for Carlos Alcaraz

The US Open’s winning ceremony wrapped up at Carlos Alcaraz’s Hotel in Manhattan just before 3 a.m. Monday, which was early by its standards for this big all-around event.

“I slept at 5:15 a.m. after the Cilic game, and 6 a.m. after the Sinner match,” he explained wearily as he sat in the back seat of an SUV, turning his gaze from his hub to the streets outside the tinted windows.

He was rolling toward Times Square for a date with his new trophy, and upon arrival, he climbed onto the sidewalk in his blue-and-white jeans and sneakers and quickly held the silverware aloft with the photographers—professionals and amateurs—clicking away as a crowd began to gather.

“Numero Ono!” Someone shouted in Spanish.

Alcaraz noticed, just as he did after getting up on Monday and looking at the updated ATP ratings on his phone.

“I had to make sure,” he said.

Alcaraz, at 19, is the youngest number one player since the creation of the ATP rankings in 1973. This is a major achievement in a sport that has so many miracles: from Bjorn Borg to Mats Wellander, Boris Becker to Pete Sampras, to Alcaraz Hispanic. His compatriot Rafael Nadal, who also won his first major at the age of 19 (at the 2005 French Open).

But the meteoric rise of Alcaraz to the top was not simply due to his genius – although the word, which should be used sparingly in tennis or anything else, seems to apply in his acrobatic state.

His coronation is also due to timing:

to Novak Djokovic’s refusal to vaccinate against Covid-19, which kept him out of this year’s Australian Open, US Open and four North American Masters 1000.

Nadal’s schedule is limited due to a series of injuries.

to the exceptional status at Wimbledon, which Djokovic won again in July but did not give him any order points; The tournament was stripped of points by the men’s and women’s rounds due to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players due to the war in Ukraine.

Alcaraz’s situation is fundamentally different from that of Nadal, who, as longtime second-placed, had to chase Roger Federer for years before finally taking the top spot.

The Cars reached number one before the end of their second full season on the Tour and after winning four sets over Casper Road on Sunday.

“Look, I don’t want to take credit for myself,” said Alcaraz. “But it’s true that Rafa, Djokovic, Federer, they were in a period where they were all playing. I got lucky or whatever you want to call it that Djokovic can’t play. Everyone has their reasons, but that’s the reality. He couldn’t play much for a while, and it went on. Rafa is in play but not all year long either. But like I said, I don’t want to take the credit for myself. I’ve been playing all season, playing great matches and incredible tournaments, and I’ve worked hard for things like this to happen.”

At the end of 2021, Alcaraz was considered one of the brightest young talents in the game and was ranked 32. Less than nine months later, he won the Rio Open, Miami Open, Barcelona Open, Madrid Open and now his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.

Along the way, he beat the old guard, beat Nadal and Djokovic in Madrid, the New Wave, and defeated 21-year-old Italian Yannick Sener, 24-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, and the 23-year-old. Rod in New York.

Alcaraz’s last duel with Sener in the quarter-finals was the championship match, played near full throttle for five sets in five hours and 15 minutes, with Alcaraz saving a match point in the fourth set.

It was also the last closing game in US Open history, and it concluded at 2:50 a.m., a noteworthy but also questionable honor even if the tournament presented him with a souvenir from that record-breaking match on Sunday.

Finishing at that hour (and going to bed at 6 a.m.) is not a way for an elite athlete to improve performance or for a major sporting event to maximize their reach even if tennis is a world sport and it’s 2:50 a.m. in New York. time in certain parts of the world.

On the plus side, it was the first time in US Open history that all sessions at Arthur Ashe Stadium were sold out. This is partly due to the effect of Serena Williams’ announcement that the end of her career was approaching, which led to increased interest in first-week tickets at Ash Stadium.

But US Open director Stacey Allister said officials would definitely take another look at the evening session schedule ahead of the 2023 Open.

What is clear, however, is that Alcaraz’s three successive late-night marathons did not prevent him from taking part in the tournament. He defeated Marin Cilic, Sener and Tiafoe in five sets before defeating Roode, becoming the third man in the Open Era to win a major after winning three in a row. (Stephan Edberg did it at the 1992 US Open, and Gustavo Kuerten did it at the 1997 French Open.)

Like elegant Edberg’s and resilient Kuerten, Alcaraz’s recovery powers have been astounding, and for now at least he plans to play in the Davis Cup for Spain later this week in Valencia after returning home.

In an interview with the Spanish magazine El País, Alcaraz physiotherapist Juango Moreno said that Alcaraz had “a good genetic predisposition that we were able to achieve to the utmost magnificence”.

Moreno explained that the team paid close attention to Alcaraz’s hydration and replenishment during matches, which included caffeine, which is a legal supplement.

But Moreno said recovery after the match was key: a focus on using a stationary bike, contrasting hot and cold baths, massages and what he calls the “four rupees”. These are “rehydration therapy, muscle glycogen replenishment, restoring lost amino acids, and restoring the immune system.”

Good sleep is also essential. “The other day, we helped him with a sleep supplement because we gave him too much caffeine,” Moreno told El País.

But Alcaraz said Monday there are other, less scientific factors at play.

“I am 19 years old,” he said with a smile. “I’ve worked hard and hard day in and day out to recover, and I have a great team.”

Give thanks.

“But above all, it was running on the field with the adrenaline and the matches and everything,” he said. “You forget the pain. You forget the fatigue, and you push through it.”

Alcaraz used the Spanish word “aguantar” that his team kept shouting at him in New York from the players’ box.

Of course, I felt pain, said Alcaraz. “After so many matches, it’s been very difficult, things are bothering you, but you have to fight through it.”

He has done so in often astonishing fashion, showing off his phenomenal speed and timing, adaptability in flight and a rare ability to take great risks at big points that pay off.

It’s pretty much a skill set, a package just right for fans, and he had a happier ending in New York than she had on his debut in 2021 when, after a third-round upset Stefanos Tsitsipas, was later forced to retire. With a leg injury against Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second set of the quarter-finals.

“A year ago, I came here as a new guy, a kid who was experiencing everything for the first time, including Arthur Ashe Playground,” Alcaraz said. “I thought I was a player who could win against anyone but I wasn’t ready to get on the physical, mental level and tennis for two whole weeks.

“After one year, I have changed a lot. I feel ready to keep this level.”

The proof was in Times Square on Monday holding his trophy high, but above all, the proof was in Ash Stadium at night after a late night where he tackled competition after challenge with a crowd of close to 24,000 that often made him feel like he was playing at home. . (The Tiafoe match was an exception.)

“I think the population of my city in Spain is the same as the population of Arthur Ashe Stadium,” said Alcaraz, who comes from El Palmar, a suburb of Murcia. “I took a moment during the final and looked around and seeing all these people and all those seats full in the top row was unbelievable.”

During a pre-season interview, the coach was asked which major championship he would like to win. The US Open was his answer.

Mission accomplished even if the love affair may only be in the beginning.

“I feel a special bond,” he said. “I think my game matches that court and what people are looking for when they come in. There’s energy. It’s dynamic, and I think they don’t know what I’m going to do next. I think that’s part of the connection.”

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