Casper Ruud does not expect to match the popularity of Erling Haaland in his native Norway even if he beats Carlos Alcaraz to win the US Open and become world number one.
The climax to what has been an extraordinary grand slam tournament will be a straight shootout for a maiden major trophy for both men and top spot in the rankings.
Ruud is already the best player in his country’s history having picked up a love of the sport from his father Christian, who was a top-50 player in the 1990s.
It is a phenomenal period in Norwegian sporting history, with the small country’s athletes leading the world not just in its traditional winter sports but also in athletics and triathlon as well as tennis.
All are trumped so far, though, by Manchester City’s goal machine Haaland, and Ruud said: “He’s had an unbelievable season so far. We all hope he keeps going. It’s a joy to watch him score goal after goal.
“He’s obviously the biggest star we have in Norway for the moment. He’ll probably continue to be so for many more years.
“I’m just focused on my career. I hope I can, of course, win more tournaments in my career. I want to represent Norway in a good way and put Norwegian tennis a little bit more on the map than it’s been the last years.”
This was billed as the most open men’s grand slam tournament for two decades and, for the first time since the inaugural US major in 1881, all four of the semi-finalists were there for the first time.
It was also the youngest last four at a slam since Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were here in 2008, and the main takeaway from this fortnight will be that men’s tennis should be excited not trepidatious about the era that is coming.
For it to end with so much on the line is fitting, with Ruud describing it as the “ideal situation”.
“Of course there will be nerves and we will both feel it,” said the 23-year-old. “I hope it will be a good match. He has beaten me a couple of times and I will seek my revenge.”
Ruud’s only titles so far have come at the lowest level of the ATP Tour, and all but one have been on clay, but he has made big strides this season, not least reaching his first grand slam final at the French Open.
He was well beaten by Nadal but hopes the experience can help against Alcaraz, who will play in his first slam final at the age of 19.
“(Nadal) obviously gave me a good beating,” said Ruud. “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.
“I hope it can have 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. I hope I can be more ready for that on Sunday.”
Alcaraz’s run in New York will be remembered for a long time, whether or not he wins the title.
The teenager – who is bidding to become the youngest ever world number one – has played three five-set matches back-to-back. Having finished after 2am against both Marin Cilic and then Jannik Sinner in the match of the tournament so far, he played another night-session classic against Frances Tiafoe.
Alcaraz, who has spent nearly 20 hours on court in six matches, said: “I feel great right now. A little bit tired. I’m just so, so happy. I thought about a young man 10 years ago dreaming for this moment.
“It’s amazing to be able to fight for big things. First time in a final of a grand slam. I can see the number one but at the same time it’s so far.
“I have one more to go against a player who plays incredible. I’m going to give everything that I have. I’m going to enjoy the moment and let’s see what happens.”
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