Upheaval at the Open: The Rise of “Next Gen” at the 2022 US Open


Jiyon Chatterjee, Contributing Writer

This year’s US Open was the most remarkable one in recent history. A changing of the guard, hints of a new status quo, revolution in the rankings, and surprising upsets — the landmark tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, NY truly had it all. Perhaps most importantly, the final Grand Slam of 2022 indicated just how far tennis has come since the beginning of the “Open Era” in the 1960s. I was particularly affected by 21-year-old Iga Swiatek and 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz’s victories in women’s and men’s singles, given their youth and their exciting new styles of play.

Coming into this year’s US Open, I cheered on my compatriot Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, the defending champion and teenage tennis superstar who, in 2021, became the first ever qualifier to win a Grand Slam. When I watched the tournament live during the first round, I stood outside her practice court for an hour, excitedly waiting for her autograph. I cursed myself for forgetting the “Marry Me, Emma” sign that I brought to the women’s final last year — maybe it would have helped catch her attention. Alas, she didn’t stop to greet the fans and left for the locker rooms, focused on winning her match only a few hours away. Later that night, I was met with yet more disappointment when the 19-year-old Brit lost in straight sets against frequent giant-slayer Alizé Cornet of France. It may have been a case of too much hype too soon for Raducanu, though I have no doubt that she will fight hard to climb her way back up the rankings after this unexpected loss.

The victories of some of my favorites on the men’s tour made up for my early disappointment with Raducanu’s loss. I watched 19-year-old wunderkind Carlos Alcaraz live in his first round victory. Alcaraz — known affectionately as “Carlitos” by his fans — is immediately recognizable as a talent apart from anyone else. He is perhaps the most athletic player on tour, possessing near-unbelievable speed, a sharp ability to perform acrobatic maneuvers in reaching impossibly-placed shots, and the skills to hit balls from practically any position, consistently making shots with his back to the net. Even compared to his fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal (my favorite male player), Alcaraz has a more complete game than Nadal did at 19, combining powerful, aggressive baseline groundstrokes with the ability to consistently finish points at the net. In three marathon five-set victories from the round of 16 until the final, Alcaraz exemplified the ever-increasing physicality and endurance tests of the sport. His five hour 15 minute quarterfinal against Italian Jannik Sinner was labeled one of the greatest matches ever played at the US Open by several commentators, showing hints of a future rivalry that will hopefully be comparable to the one between the “Big Three” of men’s tennis: Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic.

The retirement of Serena Williams, who played her final match during this year’s third round, captured most of the headlines about the Open. She leaves the sport as the player with the most Grand Slams in the Open Era, and many fear that a sizable void of consistent winners will open in her wake, given how Williams has dominated the tour for the past years.

Iga Swiatek’s victory provides some recourse to women’s tennis fans in this regard: after attaining the number one ranking this year, she has backed up the label by adding two Slams to her previous French Open win. Swiatek is aggressive but methodical, wearing her opponents down with heavy topspin groundstrokes, and is a fantastic mover on the court. It is little surprise that she was a straight-sets victor in the final against Ons Jabeur, who also made headlines for becoming the first African and Arab finalist at the US Open.

Most impressive about the two winners this year was their mental fortitude. For players only 19 and 21 years old, both Alcaraz and Swiatek exhibited point-by-point, resilient attitudes that allowed them to persist even through frequent breaks of serve or dropped sets. Seeing two young players problem-solve through adversity on court and, above all, actually have fun in their rallies, was a joy to watch. In defeating Casper Ruud in the final, Alcaraz became the youngest ATP number one ever, while Swiatek will retain her WTA number one ranking. They are certainly worthy successors to the long reigns of Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, and will keep me on the edge of my seat while watching tennis for years to come.