Incredible stakes as next-gen battle for top spot

Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe engaged in a high-level, high-energy spectacle of a back-and-forth semi-final at the US Open – no point over when it seemed to be, no ball out of reach, no angle too audacious .

One sequence was so stuffed with “What?! How?!” moments by both men that Arthur Ashe Stadium spectators were on their feet before it was over and remained there, clapping and carousing, through a replay on the video screens.

Ultimately, enough of the winners went Alcaraz’s way, and too many of the mistakes came from Tiafoe’s racket. And so it was Alcaraz who surged into his first grand slam final – and, in the process, gave himself a chance to become No.1 at age 19 – by ending Tiafoe’s run at Flushing Meadows with a 6-7 (6), 6 -3, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 victory on Saturday.

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Alcaraz appeared to sixteen control by grabbing nine of 10 games in one stretch and could have ended the evening when he held a match point in the fourth set. But Tiafoe saved it and soon was yelling, “I’m putting my heart on the f—ing line!”. Soon after that, Tiafoe was forcing a fifth set by improving to a US Open-record 8-0 in tiebreakers.

Still, Alcaraz showed no signs of fatigue despite playing a third five-setter in a row – including a five hour and 15-minute quarter-final win that ended at 2.50am local time, the latest finish in tournament history – and was better when he needed to be, taking four of the last five games.

Now No.3, Alcaraz will face No.7 Casper Ruud for the championship on Monday morning (AEST) with so much on the line: The winner will become a major champion for the first time and lead the rankings next week. Alcaraz is 2-0 in their previous meetings.

Alcaraz and Tiafoe offered an exceptionally entertaining performance for a little more than a set, and a little more than an hour, at the start, then again for the latter portion of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth.

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Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who eliminated 22-time grand slam champ Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, played to a sellout crowd of more than 23,000 that included former first lady Michelle Obama, often asking for – and receiving – more noise from the home crowd. No surprise, given he was the first American man in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows in 16 years.

But Alcaraz, who’s from Spain, is popular around the world, widely recognized as a future star of the sport, and he is now the youngest US Open men’s finalist from any country since Pete Sampras won the trophy at 19 in 1990.

55-stroke rally ends first set

When Alcaraz went up 2-0 in the fourth, spectators regaled him with a soccer-style song of “Olé, Olé, Olé! Charles!”.

Others responded by chanting, “Let’s go, Frances!”.

During the day’s first semi-final, which featured a 55-shot point to end the first set, folks called out the winner’s last name – “Ruuuuud!” – and it sounded as if they were booing, rather than saluting. Ruud won that long rally and built an early lead and route to beating Karen Khachanov 7-6 (5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

“Towards the end,” Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway, said about the longest point of this US Open, “the pulse was getting very high and the legs were almost shaking”.

He came into this year with a record of just 14-13 in grand slam matches – 3-4 in New York, where his best previous showing was a third-round appearance in 2020 – then needed to sit out the Australian Open in January after twisting his ankle in practice the day before the tournament began.

Alcaraz wins unbelievable point

Since then? He’s 13-2 at the majors in 2022. That includes finishing as the runner-up to Nadal at the French Open in June.

“After Roland-Garros, I was, of course, extremely happy,” Ruud said, “but also humble enough to think that could be my only final of my career”.

Didn’t take long to get to his second.

And now either his six-place jump will represent the biggest move ever to No.1 or Alcaraz will become the youngest man to get to the ATP’s top spot since the computerized rankings began in 1973.

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