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Spanish fans brought many of their country’s flags to the Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, tossing them in the air whenever things were going well for Carlos Alcaraz.
He kept them busy until the end.
Spain finally has a Miami Open men’s champion: an 18-year-old who wasn’t even in the top 100 of the world rankings at this time a year ago and is now heading into the season on clay playing probably as well as anyone. Alcaraz, the No. 14 seed, got off to a slow start to beat sixth seed Casper Ruud of Norway 7-5, 6-4 in Sunday’s final.
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“I love Miami,” Alcaraz said.
The hollow city of Miami – with its huge Spanish-speaking community – loved him back, and Alcaraz said it made a big difference throughout his two-week stay.
“I felt like I was at home from the first minute I started playing,” Alcaraz said.
He became the youngest champion in Miami Open history – Novak Djokovic was 19 when he won the tournament, then the NASDAQ-100 Open, for the first time – and raised $1,231,245 for the win, nearly doubling his career earnings with just one check.
The Spanish teenager’s shooting ability was on full display: daring drop shots in tense situations, deft touch at the net when needed, raw power from the baseline when warranted. Alcaraz would often turn to his team in the stands and throw a happy shout or a heard punch, clearly feeling more at ease as the afternoon progressed.
Among those who accompanied him: his trainer, Juan Carlos Ferrero. He was away mourning the death of his father, but returned to Miami in time for the final. And at the end of the match, Alcaraz jumped into the stands to give Ferrero his first hug as champion Miami, as his coach wiped away his tears.
“It’s pretty amazing to share this with you,” Alcaraz told Ferrero.
There had been four other Spanish men to advance to the final of what is now called the Miami Open – the tournament has changed names a few times over the years – over the past quarter century. Sergi Bruguera was the first, in 1997. Carlos Moya was next, in 2003. David Ferrer got there in 2013 and the best player of all, Rafael Nadal, reached the Miami final in 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2017. .
They all lost. Everytime.
Alcaraz ended the drought and did it with authority.
He ripped a forehand cross for a 3-0 double lead in the second set. Ruud pulled back for 3-1 and had a chance to set up another breaker late in the set.
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With Alcaraz hitting a second serve at 4-3, 30-30, Ruud correctly guessed the incoming ball’s trajectory and rounded his backhand to try what would have been a winner down the line. He put it just wide, and a point later Alcaraz were leading 5-3. Before long, it was over.
“You are already such a good player,” Ruud told Alcaraz during the award ceremony. “You are so young and if you continue like this, you will find yourself there many more times. I’m sure of it.”
Alcaraz dropped a set in six matches in Miami, improved to 18-2 on aggregate this year and became the third-youngest winner of any event in the ATP Masters 1000 series – which dates back to 1990. The only more young winners: Nadal and Michael Chang.
“For me, he’s one of the four people you have to talk to at every major now, along with Djokovic, Nadal and (Daniil) Medvedev,” tennis great Martina Navratilova said on Tennis Channel after the match. “He’s the fourth, for me.”
In terms of standings, Ruud and Alcaraz leave Miami better than ever. Ruud is expected to move up one spot to a career-best world No.7 when the computer figures are updated on Monday; Alcaraz will be a career-best No.11.
For Ruud, the rise has been steady. He was world No. 26 after Miami last year.
For Alcaraz, the rise has been meteoric. He was ranked No. 133 at this time a year ago.
But he’s made big leaps – reaching the French Open third round last year as a qualifier propelled him into the top 75, making US Open quarter-finals put him in the top 50, winning a tournament in Rio de Janeiro in February put him in the top 75. the top 20, and he leaves Miami flirting with the top 10.
“You are a great champion…and I hope you come back for many more years at the Miami Open,” Tournament Director James Blake told Alcaraz after the match, apologizing for the quality of his Spanish.
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The dashboard did not need translation.
In any language, Alcaraz was the best in Miami.