You can only hope you’re witnessing history at the moment. You obviously can’t know until the perspective of time kicks in. You tell yourself that this moment or that moment feels different than other ones you think you saw. But does it? Are you just telling yourself that? You can tell yourself anything enough to eventually convince yourself that you feel it.
Carlos Alcaraz winning the U.S. Open definitely feels like a player on the ATP Tour has started on the steps that lead to where only Nadal, Federer, or Djokovic live. Tennis fans have wanted that for a while now, as stunning as those three’s dominance and brilliance has been. There was the occasional usurper, but it didn’t feel like this. At least, that’s what we’re saying right now.
Which is terribly unfair to any player, or Alcaraz. What Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have provided for a decade and a half are things we hadn’t seen before. Sure, there have been great champions before, and Pete Sampras exited the scene only a year before Federer won his first Wimbledon. But, to most, Sampras just won. There wasn’t any flash to it, or anything signature about it. He was just really good at a lot of things, things we’d seen other players be really good at just not as comprehensively. We’d seen big servers, or great net players, or solid off-the-ground players, and Sampras was all of those things, just not in any remarkable way. It was the solidity across all of them that made him great.
The three pillars who have ruled over the game were spectacular in some way, or many ways. Federer’s artistry, Nadal’s defiance in hitting winners from the most defensive of positions, the metronomic consistency of Djokovic. These things were beyond our thoughts before they showed us it was possible.
So to ask any player, much less one who is just 19, to even advertise that he can do things we hadn’t thought possible before is the most impossible standard. Other players have come up for air briefly, but to keep that standard for any longer than a gasp has been too much. As it rightly should be. That’s what makes those three those three.
And perhaps Alcaraz won’t stay there. But it sure feels like something changed in men’s tennis over this tournament. Sure, Nadal’s body still hasn’t returned to previous strength, and it may never again. Djokovic couldn’t overcome his brain droppings. We won’t know for sure until Alcaraz stares down one or both in a grand slam, and maybe by the time he gets a chance, time and mileage will have done most of the job anyway.
Still, any fan can’t help but be giddy at the idea that the fantasy of putting Nadal’s legs and determination on Federer’s vision and feel has actually come to life. Because that’s what Alcaraz flashes a whole lot:
And Alcaraz is ahead of where those three were when they were teenagers. Nadal claimed his first French Open at 19, but at that time was still seen as a clay court specialist who needed to greatly adjust his serve and his game to deal with surfaces that didn’t give him so much time or accentuate his spin. Federer was still harnessing all the things that made him Federer and didn’t claim his first Grand Slam until just before his 22nd birthday. Djokovic was just the yappy kid with the big potential who did funny impressions of his cohorts.
Alcaraz claimed a Grand Slam on what is not his favorite surface, yet. His serve could still use some more boom, but his net game shows otherworldly feel while his shotmaking from the baseline is, quite simply, antisocial. He has far more pieces in place.
While the generation before him couldn’t bring themselves to the level of the three on top, it already feels like Alcaraz’s contemporaries are eager to chase him, such as Tiafoe, Sinner, Ruud. They’re going to have to. We don’t know for sure yet, but it feels like, to regularly beat him, you’ll have to join him at the top of Olympus.
That’s where the perfect combination of Federer’s ice and Nadal’s fire would have to call home.
And on the lighter side of yesterday, literally, here’s how you don’t tailgate:
I can’t imagine standing on a sea of asphalt on a late summer day in South Florida is all that pleasant anyway. Wasn’t this one of those “Mayhem” ads?
We’ll cap it off with Real Madrid’s Fede Valverde pulling the “fuck you I’m scoring” lever that we didn’t know was available to him. Most of us can’t even run this far: