After a season of Nadal-Djokovic supremacy, a new Slam winner in the men’s draw is on the anvil. Third seed Carlos Alcaraz and fifth seed Casper Ruud contest tomorrow’s US Open final. It’s only the first and second finals, respectively, of their young careers. Is it an early sign of upheaval in the established tennis order among the men? Roger Federer has long been on the sidelines, but his two great rivals- Rafa and Nole– continue to swat it out with the toddlers of the tennis world, often dishing out lessons without fuss. Djokovic is near invincible at his best, but Daniil Medvedev– who models himself on the Serb- made a dent in his otherwise impregnable aura in last season’s New York final. Perhaps, there is something about the US Open which makes it fertile ground for the upstarts. Frances Tiafoe swept aside Nadal in four sets, paving the way for the new generation to take a decisive step forward in the tennis stakes.
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Although guaranteed a new name on the Slam sheet, there’s no harm in learning from the old masters. The Norwegian Ruud has admitted as much, suggesting that his loss to Nadal in the French Open final gives him a sense of what to expect:
“I hope it has prepared me a little bit. At least I know a little bit what I’m facing when I’m stepping on the court, seeing the trophy on the back of the court, seeing tons of celebrities. Even in Roland Garros, there was royal families there watching. That was a little bit [of a] new experience for me. I hope I can be more ready for that on Sunday,” quotes The Express.
In a sense, Ruud is possibly reminding Alcaraz that he is a relative veteran. Although their tender years indicate a rawness, there is polish and experience on his shoulders. Hopefully, I’m not reading much into it, but it has the air of a once beaten, now sharpened general; chiselled in the fire of the battle. As Comrade Mao says in “On Practice”:
“If those who lead a war lack experience of war, then at the initial stage they will not understand the profound laws pertaining to the directing of a specific war…At the initial stage they will merely experience a good deal of fighting and, what is more, suffer many defeats. But this experience enables them to comprehend the inner thread of the whole war.”
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While tennis is not war, similar contours run through a player’s development. It even tells us whom to avoid, whom to pick on; a lesson Nadal drilled into him on the red clay of Paris:
“Roland Garros, the final, [Nadal] obviously gave me a good beating. After the final I said, ‘If I ever reach one again, I hope it is not Rafa on the other side of the court in Roland Garros’, because it’s sort of an impossible task I think for any player. I’m happy that it’s not Rafa on clay,” stressed Ruud ahead of the final.
If Ruud wins tomorrow, extending his gratitude to Frances Tiafoe wouldn’t be out of order.