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Ricky Dimon’s pick for the US Open Tennis final: Carlos Alcaraz vs. Casper Ruud

Nineteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain plays Casper Ruud of Norway for the US Open title and world No. 1 ranking. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

It doesn’t get any bigger than this.

Sure, it won’t make headlines outside of hardcore tennis circles becaue Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer are not involved. Real tennis fans know this, though: the stakes literally could not be any higher in the 2022 U.S. Open men’s singles final.

Not only are Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud battling for their first-ever Grand Slam title, but whoever wins will become No. 1 in the world for the first time.

That’s right; it’s a winner-take-all showdown in every sense.

Ruud is the lower-ranked player (currently seventh), but he is the one who has been to a slam final before. Competing on his preferred clay-court surface, the Norwegian finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal this spring at Roland Garros. He has earned another major title shot following victories in New York over Kyle Edmund, Tim van Rijthoven, Tommy Paul, Corentin Moutet, Matteo Berrettini, and Karen Khachanov. Only Paul pushed Ruud to five sets.

The story has been much different for Alcaraz. One, his run to the final was not surprising–and perhaps even expected. Two, it was much tougher. Alcaraz has survived three consecutive five-setters, beating Marin Cilic in the fourth round, Jannik Sinner in the quarterfinals, and Frances Tiafoe in the semis. The Spaniard’s match against Sinner lasted five hours and 15 minutes and ended at 2:50 am–the latest finish in U.S. Open history.

Somehow, Alcaraz bounced right back to win another marathon against Tiafoe and set up Sunday’s incredibly special occasion.

“It’s close,” the 19-year-old said of the No. 1 ranking. “But at the same time (it) is so far away, you know? It’s a final of a Grand Slam, fighting for No. 1 in the world, something that I [have dreamt of] since I was a kid.”

Casper Ruud of Norway in action. (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Ruud would have clinched the top spot if Alcaraz had lost to Tiafoe, but now it all comes down to Sunday. The Norwegian wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think what’s most fair is if we both reach the final and whoever wins the final reaches the world No. 1,” he said prior to the Alcaraz-Tiafoe match. “That would be I think the ideal situation.”

But this could be a be-careful-what-you-wish-for-situation. In his two trips to slam finals, Ruud did not face a single top-10 opponent. This a steep step up in competition for the 23-year-old, and one that he has not yet been able to handle. He trails the head-to-head series 2-0, having lost in straight sets on the red clay of Marbella in 2021 and in the Miami final earlier this season. It should also be noted that he has never won a title above the 250 level. Alcaraz, by contrast, has won two 1000s and two 500s this year alone.

Ruud could emerge victorious if he manages to make it a long, physical five-setter, but Alcaraz may blow him off the court before it reaches that point.

Pick: Alcaraz in 3

Editors Note • Choosing Ruud in 4 maybe 5. (LJ) 🎾

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.