Amazing Alcaraz wins first Masters over Ruud – the youngest Miami champion

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There were opportunities aplenty for big-time achievements in this year’s Miami Open.

In both the women’s and men’s draws, the No1 ranking was up for grabs, by Iga Swiatek and by Daniil Medvedev.

In both draws, there was a chance for two new names to complete the notoriously difficult Sunshine Double—winning both Indian Wells and Miami: again by Swiatek and, on the men’s side, by Taylor Fritz.

And for the women, Swiatek ticked every box and more. She won Miami to become only the fourth woman to complete the Double, but also the youngest woman to do so. But Miami marked her third straight WTA1000 title, with Indian Wells and, before that, Doha, and so the 20-year-old became the only woman to win all three straight.

And yes, she would become the new No1 on Monday, the only Polish player, male or female, to attain No1 in singles.

On the men’s side, things did not pan out in quite the same way, though for a while, it looked promising. Fritz battled to the fourth round but lost in three sets to Miomir Kecmanovic, so no Double.

Medvedev played well all the way to the quarters, but was then beaten by defending champion Hubert Hurkacz, and subsequently announced he was heading home for a hernia operation. He had needed one more win to reclaim the No1 ranking, but instead, Novak Djokovic would continue his residency a little longer.

But… for the last two standing in the men’s final, there were still records on the line. Indeed personal bests had already been achieved for No6 seed Casper Ruud and No14 seed Carlos Alcaraz.

Neither man had reached the final of a Masters before. And by doing so in Miami, each would hit a new career high in the ranks: Norwegian Ruud to No7, and Spaniard Alcaraz into the top 12 for the first time. It was notable, too, that this should happen in Miami, where neither had won a match before this year.

But that was just the start, especially for the super-star-in-waiting Alcaraz. For the 18-year-old’s rise up the ranks and through the draws was proving to be meteoric. His ranking when he lost his first ever match in Miami a year ago was 132, and now he was bidding to become the youngest ever Miami champion, and the third-youngest champion in any Masters event.

In early 2021, the Spaniard was still playing qualifying rounds and Challengers, yet he made the semis in Marbella last April and the third round at the French Open. His first title soon followed, in Umag, followed by the semis at Winston-Salem, and then his first Major quarter-final at the US Open where, as in Miami this week, he beat third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. Alcaraz when on to beat No7 Matteo Berrettini in Vienna and, perhaps not surprisingly, cruised to the NextGen Finals title in Milan

All the while, his athletic, explosive tennis and joyful personality captured plenty of attention as well as ranking points.

And so to 2022, his first ATP500 title in Rio, and the semis in Indian Wells—where he took his idol Rafael Nadal to three sets. And Alcaraz swiftly took on star status with his performances in front of delighted Miami fans. With just two breaks of serve throughout, he beat not just Tsitsipas but Marin Cilic and Hurkacz, and was up to 17-2 for the season.

What is more, he had won his only previous match against Ruud, in straight sets in Marbella a year ago. However, Ruud had not had a shabby year since then, either.

The former No1 junior was ranked 26 in that Marbella match, and went on to win a personal-best 57 matches and five titles to end 2021 at No8.

He made the semis of all three clay Masters, but also the quarters in three hard-court Masters. And while all but one of his seven titles from nine finals had come on clay, he had now made his first Masters final on hard courts.

And like Alcaraz, he had dropped only one set on his way to the final, and that against No2 seed Alexander Zverev. So even though Ruud missed the Australian Open with injury, he was up to 13-3 for the season.

Yet for all the 23-year-old Norwegian’s improvements on this surface, most factors pointed to an Alcaraz win: the Spaniard had looked far more comfortable in the heat and humidity, had the kind of attacking shot-making to thrive in the conditions, and was perhaps even faster than his nimble opponent. And then there was the crowd.

Both certainly showed nerves in the early games, with Ruud missing first serves and Alcaraz missing his big forehands to concede an early break. Ruud then held more easily, getting his penetrating forehands into play: 3-0.

Alcaraz got on the board with a drop-shot winner, and began to find the same variety in the fifth game, forcing Ruud to net a difficult lob. Another lob against Ruud, who inexplicably came to the net on nothing, worked break point. This time the Spaniard misjudged the drop shot, and two Ruud forehand winners held for 4-1.

The Spaniard got two more break chances in the next game, and this time a shanked forehand from Ruud helped him convert, 4-3. Alcaraz began to break out his serve and volley, and levelled things at 4-4. He was not offering Ruud what the Norwegian thrived on, rhythm, and Ruud was nothing like as comfortable at the net.

Now the Norwegian was up against it at 5-5, 15-40 as a 102mph forehand zipped past him, and he whipped his own forehand wide for the break. The Spaniard would serve for the set, and although he had to fend off a break chance, he came through, 7-5, with a huge roar, both from player and crowd.

Ruud needed to reconsider his tactic of receiving so far back in the court: he was getting no returns into play on the backhand wing. But he opened serving in the second set, and was on the run almost immediately. Alcaraz outplayed him at the net, where Ruud became a sitting duck. The game lasted eight minutes, four deuces, and Alcaraz broke at the third attempt.

And so it went, as the Spaniard fired a bullet of a cross-court forehand at the extreme of his range to break again, 3-0. If Ruud played better, Alcaraz simply raised the stakes, defending whatever was thrown at him. However, the Norwegian won a run of points, courtesy of some ripping forehands, and after six break points and eight minutes, he got the break, and he then held to love—but he was still a break down.

Ruud now called for the trainer, too, and needed treatment to his left hip. However, he was serving better, using drops and lobs, and holding with ease—but could he break?

The answer was a swift no. The 18-year-old saw the finish line, and serve and volleyed on match point to become the youngest ever Miami Masters champion, 6-4.

The crowd roared their approval, and his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero embraced him in tears. The elder Spaniard, a former No1, had been hit by the sudden death of his father at the start of the tournament, but had rushed back to Miami two hours before the final to witness his charge make history. It turned out to be both inspiring and emotional for both.

A word, though, for the still-young Ruud, who has taken great strides of his own in Miami, and with his favourite clay just around the corner. And both he and Alcaraz, are as sporting and generous as they are talented.

The new champion summed it up for both:

“Most important [is] you are a nice guy, that is the most important thing—to be a nice guy.”

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia