Youth Will Be Served: the US Open Recap

The 2022 US Open, the year’s final Grand Slam of tennis, is in the record books, and it will stand as a glorious celebration of youth. Nineteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz-Garfia of Spain is the Men’s Champion and the new ATP No. 1 (the last time someone so young held that ranking would be Lleyton Hewitt at the age of 20). Iga Swiatek of Poland, only 21, is the Women’s Champion, annexing her third Slam title, after winning two French Opens. And of special nationalistic note, our own 17-year old Alex Eala is the Junior Girls US Open Singles Champion — this after having taken the Cup of Junior Doubles at the Australian Open two years ago, and the French Open last year.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain celebrates a point against Casper Ruud of Norway during their Men’s Singles Final match on Day Fourteen of the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 11, 2022 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (AFP)

For Alcaraz-Garfia, it was as much a test of endurance as it was a test of skills and composure. He went through three five-set matches to reach this Final, and if you had to pick out a match of the tournament, I’d choose the quarterfinal between Alcaraz and Italian Jannik Sinner as the ultimate showcase of ebb and flow, and crazy, unbelievable shot-making. Who can forget his behind the back return, which was then volleyed by Sinner, but put away by Alcaraz with his cat-like court coverage. That point alone encapsulated all the promise fulfilled that has made Alcaraz such a hot, trending tennis topic over the last two years.

Casper Ruud from Finland was across the court at the Arthur Ashe Stadium during the Final, and in his second Slam Final this year (he lost to Nadal at the French), this 23-year old still emerged No. 2 in the world, and showed it may only be a matter of time before he claims his first Slam. If there was a telling letdown for Ruud, I’d point to the third set tiebreaker and how his groundstrokes, especially on the backhand side, suddenly deserted him.

Tiafoe (USA) and Khachanov (Russia), who both reached the semifinals, served notice that they have the game to contend in the future. Along with Sinner, I expect these players to enter future tournaments with more confidence and mental resilience. At this level, I’ve often said that the difference isn’t the talent or physical gifts, but the mental approach, and capacity to adjust mid-match, if things aren’t working well.

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia is 28-years old and was in her second consecutive Slam Final. But just as in Wimbledon, her bidding to be the first Ladies Slam Champion from an African nation fell short. Swiatek breezed through the first set, and handily won the tiebreaker of the second set. And never discount the fact that there were moments when Swiatek felt she was playing before a home crowd — the five boroughs of New York City and the East Coast boasts of several families of Polish descent, and they trooped to Flushing Meadow to wave the flag, and cheer on Iga.

Ranked No. 297 in the world, Alex Eala will move up a few slots with this Juniors win. Most important, is that she’s the first Filipino to win a singles title at a tennis Grand Slam. Noli Eala, the newly appointed Philippine Sports Commission ,was quick to extol the achievement of his niece — as did the Philippine government and our local social media. But Mr. Eala will be the first to say we should all manage our expectations. Winning a Juniors title is no assurance that one can dominate the Senior pro level. That’s a whole different game.

Alex Eala (AFP)

Just look back to last year’s celebrated fairy-tale Ladies’ champion Emma Radacanu — yes, it was a historic win and her’s for all time, but since that win, it’s been a long Year of Nothing for Emma, a succession of early exits, and not a single title to add to her name. And while the cynical among us can point to her endorsements, it would be a sad reflection on her as a tennis player if at the end of her career, that would be the sole high point.

Further on this vein, Daniel Rincòn and Shang Juncheng vied for the Boys title at the Juniors US Open last year, while in the 2021 Girls, it was Robin Montgomery and Kristina Dmitruk – not exactly household names today, right? Your Coco Gauff story isn’t an everyday one, so let’s just trust in the process that the Rafa Nadal Academy has planned out for Alex, and be patient. Definitely, more than any prospect on the Men’s side, Alex holds the best promise of reaching levels no tennis player from the Philippines has ever reached – and we should be very proud of her, without throwing the weight of a forecasted WTA title immediately on her shoulders.

So special congratulations to Alex Eala, and I applaud both Carlos Alcaraz-Garfia and Iga Swiatek for their terrific accomplishments. While many tennis fans were rooting for sentimental favorite and GOAT Rafa Nadal at the start of this Open, it looks like this Slam was meant for another Spaniard.

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