Sep 10, 2022

2022 US Open Men's Finals Writeup

Ruud vs Alcaraz :

Thunder booms overhead. Several sexy koatamundis scatter as a man walks through the jungle. But is it a man? Or is it …. PABLO ANDUJARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Born from the thought of a jaguar combined with the sexiness of a koatamundi, Pablo Andujar,or Racqetzoatl (as he is known to the locals) rules supreme in the jungle. But today, he has two guests.

Casper Ruud opens his eyes slowly. He sees only jungle.
“This is puzzling,” he thinks, puzzledly. “I do not usually play the US Open in the jungle”.
The setback is nothing to him, and he begins taking some warmup swings despite having no racquet and having been transported to a dream jungle.
“You have a good attitude,” says a man as he steps out from behind a bush. But is it a man? Or is it …. PABLO ANDUJARRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
“Thanks,” says Casper, before going back to using a stick to draw a meal plan in the ground.
“Don’t you want to know how you got here?” asks Pablo, who is as handsome as he is jaguar.
“No, I’m good”, says Casper. He is now using a sloth as a medicine ball to do squats He. cannot be rattled by handsome jaguar men.
“Hola”, says Alcaraz, who has wandered over.
“Sweet workout area,” he says, as he grabs several poisonous frogs and begins to juggle them to work on dexterity.
“This is supposed to be disorienting, guys,” insists Pablo. “We’re good,” they both chime in unison, as they begin beckoning to tapirs to sit on their back as they do pushups.
“Well, what if I told you,” said Pablo ominously, “there’s only one exercise bike.”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO” shout the pair. In cold sweats, they both awaken in their beds. Phew, it was just a dream.

Who would have thought that taking a professional approach to tennis would yield results? The finals here are the two players who in my opinion have been training the hardest and ironing out the deficiencies in their game the most actively over the past few years. Alcaraz came on tour with not much of a serve, not much of a backhand, and a huge forehand. The forehand has gotten much sharper. Does he even miss when he goes crosscourt anymore? He swings with full commitment but is fairly error prone when he goes inside out. You can be sure he will fix this during the offseason. His backhand has gone from a strong utility that struggled to go down the line to a wing that is breaking down his opponents’ belief. He is nearly automatic with it when sending it crosscourt on gets, and that reminds me a bit of Djokovic’s ability to contort his body in order to create the angle necessary.

Carlos’ biggest weakness is still his serve, but he’s starting to land it fairly reliably on second serve deliveries and his baseline play is exhausting enough that a strong delivery or a big kick becomes difficult to lunge for as matches progress. All of this is through training, but also through physical strength. In a tour made up of skinny players losing to guys built like Nadal and Murray, Alcaraz has clearly made the choice to train. The hard thing about this for his opponents is that physical training compounds over the years. It takes a long time for your parts to adjust to new workloads, and Alcaraz has been running at this level for long enough that it starts to become a base level of output. Simply put, he’s going to become like Nadal in the sense that his opponents cannot hang at his level for an entire match.

A few years ago, Ruud was the perfect claycourt player for one set. The first set of matches, he would execute perfectly and have every single shot mapped out. In the second, he’d get a bit pushy, and would just resort to hitting hard as a plan B. His serve wasn’t very effective on hardcourt, and his backhand mostly just hit with height and spin to keep him out of trouble until he could find a forehand.

Fast forward a few seasons, and Ruud’s serve has become an effective weapon. He has an excellent T serve from the duece side and barely ever double faults. His backhand has adjusted to hardcourt tennis and hits the ball low over the net. The big adjustment is in his ability to take the ball down the line. This for him, and for most others, is a result of physical strength in the shoulders but mainly the legs. The hard yards on clay and putting effort into strength and balance training with his team have paid off, and he’s reaping the results.

These are two players who don’t react poorly on court, always reset for the next rally, and who accept adversity with a smile. This is a damn good finals. It’s fitting that when a change of the guard finally comes that people are sort of willing to accept, it’s the two Next Gen guys who are putting in the work. So who wins? Idk, but I’ll take a crack at it. For betting purposes, this tournament has been over for a long time. When you’re looking at lines late in the tournament, the books have the maximum amount of information on which markets are garnering the most money. They know which players are fatigued. They know who served well in practice. They know who felt mildly ill. They know, they know, they know.

On the tennis side, you’re also now facing the thinnest margins of victory and skill differential that you will in the entire event, but you’re still paying the same exorbitant juice that you were in the beginning. Simply put, this is putting your money through a thresher. It is easy to get caught by outlier results also, since you’re wagering on players who are reaching new peaks. Peak vs peak can completely go against a H2H record that was mostly in the past or at events where the players were at an average level. I know Alcaraz can beat Ruud in round two, but can he beat the Ruud that has beaten Paul, Berrettini, and Khachanov? We know Swiatek has had success against Jabeur, but is Jabeur at an entirely new level? It’s not illegal for players to improve during their careers, and gauging when that has happened is a better “wait and see” moment than a “bet for fear of missing out” event.

Anyway, senseless gambling aside this is going to be a great match. Alcaraz has just come through two nightmarishly tense 5-setters, but it doesn’t appear to be affecting his overall results. Against Tiafoe, he did look a bit flat in the first set. He looked a tiny step slow on lunges when returning, and it seemed like his legs took until around the 3rd set to really warm up. Part of this could have been Tiafoe’s service delivery (much sharper than Sinner’s and with more spin as well), but I think fresh Alcaraz can finish off Tiafoe in 4 fairly reliably so he’ll be a tiny bit worn for the finals. This is big because Ruud is through with pretty much no fatigue. He’s had letdowns in the third set against all his opponents the past few rounds but has pretty much left them flat after that. Alcaraz likely should have been done in 4 if not for some heroics from Tiafoe, but he also could have gone down 2-0 if Tiafoe had played the break points better. What I did see happening in the 3rd set was Tiafoe’s legs going out from under him. He got a second wind in the fourth, but during Alcaraz’s whole 6-3, 6-1 run Tiafoe’s serve was missing. That’s always the first thing to go when your legs are tired. It was a tremendous fight from Tiafoe, and I really love that he said “I’m gonna win this thing one day”. It shows the kind of desire that leads one to train. It’s a kid with a great serve, a laser of a forehand, and tremendous instincts and hands at net. His backhand can still improve, and he’s one of the few players on tour who might be faster than Alcaraz. We’re here for it, Frances.

In the post-match moments Patrick McEnroe made it awkward but that’s just the Tennis Channel/ESPN American marketing bias. They try really hard to make it about the USTA players, so he wanted to interview Tiafoe even though he had lost. Unfortunately, there’s no great way to interview someone who’s just gotten difficult news after trying their heart out for 5 hours. The “we’re gonna wait til Tiafoe collects his stuff” moment was extra-cringe for casual viewers. The announcers often mention how many shirt changes the players go through, and the idiosyncrasies of different players on tour in terms of their area/towel storage. Tiafoe’s is always cluttered because he sweats a ton during his matches, so there are a ton of wet shirts. If you think putting wet shirts into your bag to sit for a few hours sounds like a good plan, you’ve never come home from a several day tournament and had to throw gear out rather than attempt washing it. That stuff needs to dry out.

Anyway, Tiafoe’s area is a mess by the end of a match, but it didn’t need to be mentioned. McEnroe tried to stick to post-match interview protocol while also going around it, and dead air is something that only professionals can handle. He tried to explain to the crowd what he was waiting for, which was unnecessary, and Tiafoe really did have a lot to put together, so it was double awkward for the camera to pan to him. It would have been fine to interview Tiafoe, and then start his interview with Alcaraz right after. It would have been fine to pause that interview also to implore the crowd and Carlos to applaud for Tiafoe as he walked off whenever he did. People get themselves in trouble when they talk but have nothing to say, and the Tennis Channel announcers are generally awkward af (not you James Blake, you’re lovely).

As far as sweat for Ruud, there hasn’t been any. His set losses have been a “darn I have to play a little extra tennis” moment rather than a “sweeping momentum change omg what will happen now moment”. Alcaraz is hitting bigger than him off the backhand, but I don’t know if he will be able to hit through him as readily as he did his last two opponents. Ruud is completely fresh for this, and has played two absolutely perfect sets in all his matches. I expect him to win at least one of the first two sets, and his chances from there will slowly start to diminish. The first question with Alcaraz is “Can you play at his pace for an entire match?” Ruud should be able to, so I’d make this a bit more even than the -210 offered for Alcaraz here.

If you think Casper Ruud just goes away because Alcaraz has a good baseline game, you haven’t been watching his rallies. He doesn’t really miss, he can go big from anywhere, and he hits a very heavy ball that keeps him out of trouble generally. Tiafoe was able to win some rallies, and I would expect (if both players start off from a second serve situation) Ruud to be beating Tiafoe in straight sets. Ruud is the hardest test Alcaraz has had, and he is almost certainly fresher. A day of rest is great, but it’s the second day that tends to be the more difficult with long tournaments.

Ruud can hang with Alcaraz’s pace, but it doesn’t make him a winner. The second question is how do you score? Tiafoe has a great serve and a devastating kick serve. I think it was one of the McEnroe’s or Brad’s or Jim’s that said if you want to win a major, you need a great kick serve. It’s a fair point, since second serves on break points are a spot where it’s hard to dial up pace. Ruud has a decent one, but he isn’t scoring as many unreturneds as Tiafoe on average. It’ll be a long day for him and the dominance he had in crosscourt backhand exchanges with Khachanov isn’t likely to be there against Carlos who hits with full commitment to pace and length on those shots. For me, Casper takes the early stages of this match. When he’s fresh he plays perfect tennis, and his ability to trade and return the extra ball with interest is something that proved to frustrate Carlos when Sinner did it. The question then is when Ruud’s mid-match lapse comes how long it takes him to recover from it. Alcaraz does seem to get stronger as the match goes, and once his forehand becomes the biggest force on the court he seems to really sprint past his opponents. With the #1 spot on the line this is likely to be a clash for the ages. I don’t think Alcaraz is consistent enough on serve to win this in anything less than 5, but I’m similarly not sure how Ruud scores in the second half of the match. Alcaraz was my pre-tournament pick to win this, but it’s feeling much closer now than if you told me “he plays Ruud in the finals” a few weeks ago. Ruud in 4 or Alcaraz in 5.