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This year's U.S. Open is in the books and many call it one of the greatest

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The U.S. Open has wrapped up with a new men's tennis champion who seems destined for even more greatness. Spain's Carlos Alcaraz beat Casper Ruud of Norway to grab his first Grand Slam singles title at the age of 19. Alcaraz also earned the world's No. 1 ranking, the youngest man to ever do that. It ended what many are calling one of the great U.S. Opens, with an emotional goodbye to Serena Williams and strong indications of change in both men's and women's tennis. NPR's Tom Goldman joins me now.

All right. So let's start with the teenager, Carlos Alcaraz, who's being called a generational player. Is the hype worth it, Tom?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: We will have to see how he does over the next decade, obviously, and whether he stays healthy. But he looks so good now and complete - his speed and court coverage, his powerful groundstroke, strong serve and volley game, deft touch. And like his countrymen and idol, 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal, Alcaraz shows a relentlessness that we saw in the three straight five-set marathons he won leading up to yesterday's final.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. He definitely looked good. And he didn't exactly come out of nowhere. I mean, he's been building to this even though he's very, very young.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. A good indication came in May, when, in three straight matches at the Madrid Open, Alcaraz beat Nadal. He beat then-world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Alexander Zverev. It was like, OK. Something's going on. And we found out exactly what over the last two weeks in New York.

MARTINEZ: And it also seems like we have a player on the women's side separating from the pack.

GOLDMAN: World No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek of Poland won the women's final at the Open - her third Grand Slam singles title. She's only 21. She's planted herself at the top with some really good up-and-coming players, including 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, who will keep pushing her.

MARTINEZ: All right. Let's pull back a bit and talk about this just-finished U.S. Open. Of course, the first week, there was really only one player, woman or man, that anyone was talking about. Will this always be remembered as Serena Williams' tournament?

GOLDMAN: It will, at least the first week. And while it may have been unfair to ignore everyone else, she earned it, right? So much was said about her impact on tennis, on culture. And I thought it was great - the continuity from Week 1 to Week 2. There was almost this torch passing because after Serena Williams lost on the first Friday, American men's player Frances Tiafoe started to emerge.

He would, of course, become a huge story in Week 2. And Serena Williams was kind of the connective tissue. Tiafoe, who's Black, talked about as a kid, he watched Serena and her sister Venus and was inspired by them. That's an important thing to remember. The Williams didn't just get girls excited about the game. And then Tiafoe, who's only 24, took up the mission, if you will, of motivating young players who look like him. He talked about that after his win in the quarterfinals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCES TIAFOE: You know, at the end of the day, I mean, I love that because of Frances Tiafoe, there's a lot of people of color playing the game of tennis. I think that's obviously a goal for me. And yeah, that's why I'm out here trying really hard.

MARTINEZ: And now Tiafoe came up short, lost in the semifinals. But you think he and the others who consistently thrilled the New York crowds represent maybe a changing of the guard in the men's game?

GOLDMAN: You know, I'm not the only one saying this, A, but it appears to be the beginning of the change. The big three - Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer - are all planning on coming back next year. But they're in their mid-30s. Fed's 41. So they won't be around for long. And what this U.S. Open showed us is there's a really good crop of young, personable men players who are ready to take this game to even higher levels - the way they hit the ball so hard, flick winners from anywhere on the court. They're so fast around the courts. Can't wait for the next Grand Slam - the Australian Open in four months.

MARTINEZ: Oh, to be young, strong and fast. That used to be Tom Goldman from NPR.

Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Ouch. You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKAYA MCCRAVEN'S "BUTTERSCOTCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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