“It’s the final of a grand slam, fighting for the No. 1 in the world — something that I have dreamed of since I was a kid,” Alcaraz told reporters after defeating Frances Tiafoe in the final four.
Defeat Ruud and Alcaraz would become the youngest No. 1 in the history of the ATP rankings — an accolade currently owned by Lleyton Hewitt, who reached the top spot at the age of 20 in 2001.
The Spaniard has enthralled crowds with his speed, athleticism, and outrageous shot-making this week and victory could be the first of many grand slam titles over the course of his career.
At least, that’s what Tiafoe predicted as he paid tribute to Alcaraz after their semifinal, calling his opponent “a hell of a player” and “a hell of a person.”
Alcaraz, a clay court specialist who has drawn comparisons to compatriot and 22-time grand slam champion Nadal, is just the second teenager in the Open Era to make the US Open final after Pete Sampras. Regardless of the scoreline on Sunday, his future looks bright.
“Right now, you can see that all the hard work I put in every day is paying off,” Alcaraz told reporters in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Ruud, meanwhile, will be chasing history of his own in the final with the chance to become the first Norwegian man to win a grand slam title.
He has spent less time on the court at this year’s tournament compared to Alcaraz, coming through just one five setter — against Tommy Paul in the third round.
It’s been a breakthrough year for Ruud when it comes to the grand slams, the 23-year-old having never progressed further than the fourth round prior to this year’s French Open.
“When you have success or achieve or experience success in the grand slams, it sort of does something to your mindset,” he told reporters on Friday. “Knowing that I can reach further stages, that does something with your self-belief.”
Ruud and Alcaraz have faced each other on two previous occasions with the latter winning both, most recently in the final of this year’s Miami Open.
“We’re playing for the tournament and also world No. 1,” said Ruud. “Of course, there will be nerves and we will both feel it.”
Any nerves will be understandable: for the third consecutive year at the US Open, a first-time grand slam champion will be crowned in the men’s singles competition.