Novak Djokovic ended his "roller coaster year" on a roaring high with victory at the ATP Finals, matching Roger Federer's record of six titles by sinking the hopes of Casper Ruud.

The Serbian said he had spent the season "on the needles", his colourful way of describing the nervousness and discomfort he had experienced during a campaign which saw him prevented from playing in Australia and North America.

Djokovic, who has refused to take a COVID-19 vaccination, has seen his career suffer because of that firm stance. He was thrown out of Australia in January, a humiliating way to begin the year.

Yet there is little doubting the 35-year-old remains the pre-eminent player on tour heading towards the 2023 season, even with the rise of Carlos Alcaraz, who ends the year as world number one.

A first ATP Finals triumph for Djokovic came in 2008, and he then won four in a row from 2012 to 2015, and now he has carried off the trophy once more, plus a cheque worth $4.74million, the biggest prize ever paid out in tennis.

"Seven years, it's been a long time. At the same time, the fact I've waited seven years makes this victory even sweeter and even bigger," Djokovic said.

Speaking on Amazon Prime, Djokovic said the win after all he has gone through felt "huge".

"I probably talked about this season and how unusual it is 1,000 times prior to this interview, so I'm not going to repeat what most people who follow tennis know," he said.

"[It's] just a big relief and satisfaction, and also I look forward to having a couple of weeks off, because I've been on the needles the entire year, whether for tournaments or waiting for permissions to go somewhere, so I'm really glad I managed to end it in a positive way."

He is the oldest champion in the tournament's 53-year history, breaking a record held by Federer, who was 30 when he won in 2011.

Djokovic said it was "really, really impressive" for Ruud to have reached grand slam finals in Paris and New York, and the ATP Finals title match, in a stellar year for the 23-year-old Norwegian.

But Djokovic was ruthless in Sunday's final, emerging a 7-5 6-3 winner thanks to a break of serve in each set, earning a fifth title of his disrupted year following wins at Wimbledon, Rome, Astana and Tel Aviv.

Thanking his team and supporters during the trophy presentation for "going through some tough times" with him, Djokovic said there were moments where he had needed "a shoulder to lean on, a shoulder to cry on".

The 21-time grand slam winner added: "It's been a roller coaster year really, something I've never experienced ever before in my life, and only we know what we've been through."

Novak Djokovic ended his tumultuous year on a breathtaking high by dismantling Casper Ruud to win the title match at the ATP Finals, pocketing almost $5million in the process.

The man who was deported from Australia after a vaccination and visa dispute in January, then refused entry to the United States later in the campaign, scorched to a 7-5 6-3 victory against rising star Ruud.

This was a sixth triumph for Djokovic at the ATP Finals, matching Roger Federer's record, and at the age of 35 he is also the oldest champion at the event. Federer was previously the oldest, being 30 when he captured the 2011 title in London.

The tournament has since moved to Turin, and Djokovic reels in $4.74million for a victory that shows he remains the player to beat, wherever and whenever he gets the chance to play.

Serbian superstar Djokovic had two chances to break in the second game but Ruud resisted, and the younger man saved another break point in the eighth game too, but a further opportunity came at 6-5 after Ruud paddled a backhand into the net. The 23-year-old Norwegian sent the ball long in the next rally to slip behind.

It was becoming a masterclass from Djokovic and he was pummelling the ball from the back of the court, breaking Ruud's serve for a 3-1 lead in the second set. Djokovic later won a 36-shot rally to set up championship point, sealing victory with an ace down the centre.

Ruud, a runner-up this season at the French Open and US Open, had watched each of Djokovic's previous ATP Finals victories on television, and this time he had a prime spot to witness the 21-time grand slam winner at the top of his game.

Try as he might, Ruud could not find a way to fight back once the stranglehold was with Djokovic, who heads towards 2023 with his appetite for the biggest trophies in tennis far from sated.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Djokovic – 9/0
Ruud – 6/1

WINNERS

Djokovic – 31
Ruud – 17

BREAK POINTS WON

Djokovic – 2/5
Ruud – 0/0

Casper Ruud swept through to a showdown with Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals, making light work of Andrey Rublev to reach the trophy match.

The 23-year-old Norwegian has enjoyed a stunning season, reaching two grand slam finals, and his 6-2 6-4 semi-final dismissal of Russian Rublev was impressively authoritative.

After Ruud coasted through the opening set, the occasion fell wholly flat when Ruud broke serve in the first game of the second, and did so again in the third game.

Rublev sat shaking his head at his chair in the break between games, also shrugging his shoulders towards his support team and looking lost for ideas.

He only began to make an impact after slipping 4-0 behind, and at 5-2 he broke Ruud's serve to narrow the gap and give the Turin crowd hope the contest could take off.

At 5-4, it was briefly tense, but Ruud served for the match for a second time and this time made it count, sealing victory with a brilliant backhand winner to become the first Scandinavian finalist at the ATP Finals since Stefan Edberg in 1990.

Ruud will overtake Rafael Nadal and end the year at number two in the ATP rankings should he carry off the title on Sunday; however, he has a 0-3 career record against Djokovic. Djokovic earlier battled past Taylor Fritz by winning a pair of tight tie-breaks to earn a straight-sets victory in the first of Saturday's semi-finals.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Ruud – 10/0
Rublev – 9/0

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Ruud – 20/0
Rublev – 19/1

BREAK POINTS WON

Ruud – 4/4
Rublev – 1/1

Rafael Nadal wrapped up his ATP Finals campaign with a 7-5 7-5 victory over Casper Ruud on Thursday.

The Spanish great had already failed to make the last four after suffering defeat in his first two matches in Turin, but he finished his year in style courtesy of a hard-fought win over Ruud.

Nadal held firm when two break points down at 4-4, before breaking to love to take the opening set.

He sealed victory in the 12th game of the second set, powering a cross-court backhand winner to move 15-40 ahead and set the stage for a win that saw him end the year with a 39-8 tour-level record.

"I can't ask for more," Nadal said. "2022 has had a tough six months, two Grand Slams, and finishing the year in a high spot in the rankings. So, I can't complain at all. At my age, to be able to achieve and be competitive means a lot for me.

"For 2023, just let's try to have the right preparation, work the proper way and start the season with the right energy, the right attitude, to reach the level that I need to be competitive from the beginning. Let's try it, I am excited about it."

Ruud had already progressed to the semi-finals in Italy for a second consecutive year.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Nadal - 16/1
Ruud - 4/0

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Nadal - 38/16
​Ruud - 19/18

BREAK POINTS WON

Nadal - 2/3
​Ruud - 0/2

Casper Ruud secured his place in the last four of the ATP Finals and ensured Carlos Alcaraz will be the year-ending world number one by beating Taylor Fritz on Tuesday.

Ruud made it two wins out of two in the Green Group to seal his semi-final spot with a 6-3 4-6 7-6 (8-6) defeat of Fritz in Turin.

The third seed eliminated Rafael Nadal when he won the first set and in doing so guaranteed that injured 19-year-old Alcaraz will be the youngest player to be at the top of the ATP rankings at the end of a year.

Ruud stormed into a 3-0 lead and did not allow Fritz a way back into the first set, but the American broke for the first time to level the match when his opponent was serving to stay in the second.

The battling Fritz fended off two break points in the fifth game of the deciding set and saved two match points as he fought back from 5-1 down in the tie-break to draw level at 6-6.

Norwegian Ruud was not to be denied, though, becoming the first player to reach the semi-finals when eighth seed Fritz drilled a forehand long at the Palbata Alpitour.

Fritz will do battle with Felix Auger-Aliassime on Thursday for a place in the last four.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Ruud - 14/3
Fritz - 15/0

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Ruud - 36/4
Fritz  - 36/1

BREAK POINTS WON

Ruud - 1/5
Auger-Aliassime - 1/4

Casper Ruud opened his ATP Finals campaign with a 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 triumph over Felix Auger-Aliassime in Turin.

The victory put Ruud top of the Green Group, with the pool's two other players, Rafael Nadal and Taylor Fritz, set to face off later on Sunday.

A tight first set saw each game go to serve as it went all the way to a tie-break, with Ruud – this year's beaten US Open finalist – finding a crucial break at 3-2 up, giving him the momentum to nose ahead.

They continued to be closely matched in the second set too, though Ruud again managed to break Auger-Aliassime at a critical juncture in the match.

With the set tied at three apiece, ATP Finals debutant Auger-Aliassime double-faulted at 40-15 down on his own serve to put Ruud within two games of victory.

The world number four took full advantage, who is making his second appearance in the season-ending tournament, kicking on to secure a straight-sets success without offering a single break point to begin his tournament in impressive fashion.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Ruud - 5/1

Auger-Aliassime - 14/3

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Ruud - 19/5

Auger-Aliassime - 30/9

BREAK POINTS WON

Ruud - 1/1

Auger-Aliassime - 0/0

In recent years, the notable absentee at the ATP Finals has been Roger Federer, with his last appearance in the tournament coming in 2019.

The lack of Federer at the showpiece event will be felt even more apparent this year after the Swiss maestro retired from tennis in September, though it is the absence of a player at the other end of his career that is more relevant in Turin.

World number one Carlos Alcaraz had to withdraw from the tournament after suffering an abdominal tear, which means his status at the top of the men's game is in jeopardy.

Rafael Nadal has spoken well of his 19-year-old compatriot in the past, but is not ready to pass the torch just yet, and could even topple Alcaraz from his number one spot.

The 22-time grand slam champion has finished as year-end number one five times previously, most recently in 2019. Should he accomplish the feat again this year it would put him in joint-second for most year-end finishes at the top of the ATP Rankings (since 1973) along with Pete Sampras (six).

In order to do so, Nadal will need to win the tournament, something he has never done before.

However, he comes into his 11th appearance in good form, and has won 32 per cent of his return games in 2022, the highest percentage by any player this year, and has converted 43.8 per cent of his break points in 2022, the third best amongst all players.

 

Stefanos Tsitsipas, meanwhile, is the other competitor who can knock Alcaraz off top spot, though his task to do so is a little more complicated as he needs to win every match on the way to the title in Turin. 

No player has played more matches in 2022 than Tsitsipas (80), 21 on clay, 11 on grass and 48 on hard courts; he has won 59 of them and lost 21.

Should neither man win at the Pala Alpitour, Alcaraz will breathe a sigh of relief and earn his first year-end number one finish, having taken his place after winning the US Open in September.

Nadal has been drawn into the Green Group with Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz, while Tsitsipas will be in the Red Group alongside Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic can equal Federer record

One man surprisingly unable to end the year as number one is Djokovic, despite having done so on more occasions than anyone else in history (seven).

However, the 21-time grand slam champion can still make his mark in Italy.

Djokovic has had an up-and-down year, only playing in two of the four grand slams due to his vaccination status, though he was able to win Wimbledon for the seventh time, beating Nick Kyrgios in the final.

Should the Serbian go all the way and lift what would be his sixth ATP Finals title, he will go level with Federer for most victories since the tournament began in 1970.

Among the eight participating players in this year's tournament, Djokovic has won 87 per cent of his service games in 2022, the best percentage among these players and the sixth overall.

It would be quite the ending to the year for Djokovic, who finds himself in the unusual position of sitting eighth in the world rankings, and at the age of 35, who knows how many more appearances he will make at the event?

 

Strong field promises fireworks

As is the intent of the format, the ATP Finals should be a tightly-contested few days as the best men's players in the world come together.

Ruud will be looking to add to an already impressive season, having reached two grand slam finals and winning three tour-level titles, while Fritz is aiming to carry on the fine lineage of American players to have won the tournament.

Players from the United States have won the ATP finals 16 times, with Sampras and Ivan Lendl winning five of them each. It is the most by any country and 10 more than next best Switzerland (six, all Federer) and Germany (also six, three wins for Boris Becker, one for Michael Stich and two for last year's champion, Alexander Zverev).

Auger-Aliassime has had a strong end to the year, beating Djokovic at the Laver Cup before winning three titles in as many weeks in Florence, Antwerp and Basel.

Only John Isner (895) has recorded more aces in 2022 than Auger-Aliassime, who has registered 852 in total, averaging 10.9 per match.

"All the players who participate [at the ATP Finals], I have already faced them, I have beaten them," the Canadian recently said. "So for me, there's no reason why I can't show up to this tournament with the aim of winning it."

Medvedev was world number one as recently as September but enters this tournament in fifth, though he did win the Vienna ATP 500 event last month, while his first opponent in Turin, Rublev, enters with a 2022 record of 49-18, looking for his second straight 50-win season.

Whoever comes out on top at this year's ATP Finals, the race for supremacy in 2023 promises to be as delightfully chaotic.

Novak Djokovic remained on course for a record-extending seventh Paris Masters title after booking his quarter-final place with victory over Karen Khachanov.

The six-time champion avenged his defeat by Khachanov in the 2018 Championship match by running out a commanding 6-4 6-1 winner.

That gave Djokovic his 11th straight victory in the French capital, where he is unbeaten since that 2018 defeat, while he has also won each of his last 11 Tour-level matches.

The Serbian, who has triumphed in Tel Aviv and Astana during that streak, set up a last-eight clash with Lorenzo Musetti after the Italian came from behind to stun third seed Casper Ruud 4-6 6-4 6-4.

The Naples champion recorded his maiden top-five victory at the seventh attempt, while he hit 37 winners to advance to his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final.

Meanwhile, world number one Carlos Alcaraz won five out of seven break points as he breezed past Grigor Dimitrov 6-1 6-3 to reach the last eight in Paris for the first time.

There, he will play Holger Rune after the Stockholm champion defeated seventh seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets.

Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas overcame Corentin Moutet 6-3 7-6 (7-3) to reach his 14th quarter-final of the season, where he will face Tommy Paul after the American denied Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4 6-4.

Felix Auger-Aliassime was a commanding 6-1 6-3 victor over Gilles Simon. The eighth seed will take on Frances Tiafoe, who defeated Alex De Minaur 6-3 7-6 (7-5).

Novak Djokovic and Casper Ruud were made to work hard for victory in their opening matches at the Paris Masters on Tuesday.

For Djokovic, a 10th win in a row came in an absorbing battle with his Paris-born American opponent Maxime Cressy, who displayed a typically aggressive approach on serve, with 15 aces and 10 double faults overall.

Djokovic was strong on his own delivery, however, with the Serbian losing just six points on serve and not facing a break point on his way to a 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 victory.

"I'm happy with the way I played," Djokovic said. "When chances were presented, I was able to use them, even though I did have some missed break points.

"But it was very challenging, first match with a guy who serves extremely well and strong and fast.

"He's comfortable coming to the net. It's nice to see. I think he's the only guy that really comes to the net after every first and second serve. I think it's good for tennis to see that, particularly in these modern times when most of the players are playing from back of the court. He's a very athletic guy.

"It's difficult to play him definitely in these kind of conditions where balls are flying through the court and it's quicker than it was last year. So tough to break.

"But I didn't make too many unforced errors. I'm very pleased with the way I served, with the way I was holding my service games. Just the way I felt, the way I played, it was all positive."

Third seed Ruud ground out a 6-1 7-6 (9-7) victory against Frenchman Richard Gasquet, with the Norwegian saving three of four break points in what proved to be a tightly fought contest.

Mistakes from Gasquet were ultimately costly, the veteran having 10 unforced errors in the second set compared to Ruud's two.

Seventh seed Andrey Rublev was also victorious, the Russian winning 6-2 6-3 against American John Isner, while the British duo of Jack Draper and Dan Evans progressed to the last-32 stage, beating Arthur Rinderknech and Brandon Nakashima respectively.

Carlos Alcaraz was dumped out of the Astana Open in the first round on Tuesday, suffering a surprise 7-5 6-3 defeat to David Goffin.

Goffin entered the draw as a lucky loser after squandering two match points to lose his final qualification match against Luca Nardi on Sunday, but he produced a fine display to see off the world number one in one hour and 46 minutes. 

The Belgian had to rediscover his composure to take the opener after throwing away a 5-2 lead, but ultimately deserved his straight-sets win over the US Open champion. 

Speaking on court after his victory, Goffin said: "I always believe that I have the level to cause some trouble against those guys. 

"When you play against the world number one on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don't have any choice."

Stefanos Tsitsipas was the only other seed in action in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, and he advanced to the round of 16 by beating home favourite Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 6-4.

The Tokyo Open also lost its top seed, as Casper Ruud fell to a 6-3 6-3 loss to Jaume Munar, who claimed his first top-10 win since beating Alexander Zverev in 2019.

But the likes of Borna Coric and Nick Kyrgios fared better, claiming straight-sets wins over Thanasi Kokkinakis and Tseng Chun-hsin, respectively.

Wimbledon runner-up Kyrgios only dropped four further points on his serve after being forced to save a break point in his opening service game, racing to a dominant 6-3 6-1 win.

Elsewhere, eighth seed Dan Evans fought back to beat Radu Albot 6-7 (3-7) 6-1 6-4, and Alex de Minaur lost 6-3 6-2 to Kwon Soon-woo. 

Casper Ruud stumbled to defeat against Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka as the French Open and US Open runner-up bowed out in the Korea Open quarter-finals.

World number two Ruud lost 6-2 3-6 6-2 in Seoul on Friday as the Norwegian found the going too tough in his first tournament in Asia for three years.

Ranked 56th before this week, Nishioka is one win away from vaulting back into the top 50, potentially going beyond his highest ranking of 48th if he reaches the final.

He said, quoted on the ATP website: "I feel great. My motivation is very high. I am playing very well, very smart."

Assessing top seed Ruud, Nishioka said: "I know he came from Europe and played at the Laver Cup, which is not easy matches. He wasn't settled on this court or this country yet, maybe. I was ready. I was focused on playing against him and I had a plan and it worked."

Nishioka had an outstanding run to the Washington final in August, before losing out to Nick Kyrgios in the title match. That was a major outlier in his season, which has consisted largely of early-round defeats.

His semi-final opponent will be American Aleksandar Kovacevic, a 24-year-old world number 222 who is enjoying the biggest week of his career. A 'lucky loser', handed his place in the draw when a spot opened up, Kovacevic has taken full advantage and beat compatriot Mackenzie McDonald 4-6 6-3 6-2 in their last-eight battle.

Canadian Denis Shapovalov, still seeking a first final appearance of the year, moved one step away by beating Moldova's Radu Albot 6-2 6-2, setting up a clash with American Jenson Brooksby, who was handed a bye due to Cameron Norrie pulling out with illness.

Casper Ruud saw off a fightback from Nicolas Jarry to book his spot in the quarter-finals of the Korea Open, as well as this year's ATP Finals.

The top seed was given a second set scare by the Chilean but wrestled back control to emerge as the victor in a 6-2 3-6 6-3 encounter.

The two-time grand slam finalist, having been runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open this year, will face Yoshihito Nishioka after he saw off Japanese compatriot Taro Daniel in a 6-2 6-4 win.

His victory also ensured his place at the ATP Tour's end-of-year finale in Turin, alongside Spanish duo Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz.

Cameron Norrie remains on course to set up a potential final in Korea with Ruud after brushing aside Kaichi Uchida with a comfortable 6-2 6-2 victory.

The Briton will face eighth seed Jenson Brooksby after he turned over home favourite Kwon Soon-woo in a 6-3 6-4 result in Seoul.

Brooksby's fellow Americans Mackenzie McDonald and Aleksandar Kovacevic also came through their last-16 encounters to set up a quarter-final clash against each other.

Casper Ruud expects to be "a bit nervous" when he features alongside childhood heroes Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and the retiring Roger Federer at the Laver Cup.

Ruud is the world number two heading into the tournament, which sees Team Europe take on Team World in London, after his efforts at the US Open.

The Norwegian fell just short against Spanish teenage superstar Carlos Alcaraz in the final at Flushing Meadows.

Ruud featured at last year's Laver Cup, held in Boston, and this year is due to join up with the 'Big Four' of Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer, who has announced his impending retirement at the age of 41. The quartet have won 66 grand slam titles between them.

While there are some doubts over whether Federer will be fit enough to play in his farewell tournament, with the action starting on Friday, Ruud is "honoured" to have the opportunity to play alongside his idols.

"It's going to be so special this year, having the biggest four tennis players in my childhood," Ruud said in an interview on the Laver Cup's official website.

"It's going to be an honour. [I'm] probably going to be a bit nervous when I'm out there playing in front of them, but I'll do my best and I'm very happy to be able to represent Europe in front of a crowd full of cheerful fans, and a European bench of legends."

 

Ruud has played six matches against the illustrious quartet who will now be team-mates, winning only once – against Murray in San Diego last year.

The 23-year-old has lost three times to Djokovic and once to Nadal – in the final of the French Open this season – while his sole meeting with Federer, back in 2019 at Roland Garros, went the way of the 20-time major champion.

Federer helped to create the Laver Cup but did not play in the 2021 edition due to injury. He was, however, present to support Team Europe from the stands in Boston.

"I was playing the first match of the whole [2021] Laver Cup against [Reilly] Opelka," Ruud said. "It was the first time they showed Roger on the big screen in TD Garden in Boston, and the whole crowd erupted like I never heard before.

"I can only imagine what it will be like when he's on the team and when he will enter the court."

Federer announced the decision to bring the curtain down on his 24-year playing career on Thursday, having not competed since making the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year.

Erling Haaland and Casper Ruud are flying the Norwegian flag high at the top of their sports, with Brighton and Hove Albion Women's new recruit Elisabeth Terland inspired by her compatriots.

Norway international Terland left SK Brann for Brighton in August and will hope to make her Women's Super League debut on Friday against Arsenal.

The 21-year-old, who has 13 international caps, referenced the rapid start Haaland has made to life at Manchester City, where he has scored 13 goals in just nine appearances since leaving Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland enjoyed a reunion with his former club on Wednesday, netting a sublime acrobatic finish to take his tally to 26 goals in 21 Champions League appearances – a strike every 62 minutes on average.

With City's new recruit taking the Premier League by storm, Terland hopes to emulate her fellow Norwegian as she prepares for a new challenge in England.

"The things he's doing at the moment are sick. It's just cool to see how a player can come into a new league and come into a new team and just perform time after time," she told Stats Perform. 

"Of course, it's inspiring. Everybody from Norway is really proud of him and what he's doing. Everybody is supporting him. He's a good product of our country."

While Haaland has made a flying start at City, tennis player Ruud reached his second major final of the season at the US Open.

Carlos Alcaraz proved a step too far for Ruud in the battle for the world number one spot at Flushing Meadows on Sunday, but the 23-year-old is another compatriot serving as inspiration for Terland.

"I did watch a little bit [of the US Open final]. It was quite late. Of course, it's just as inspiring to see people doing well in [other] sports," she added.

"That makes you want to do well in sports as well. [He is] a great athlete and does it time after time as well. Hopefully, next time he will win."

Carlos Alcaraz has a mixture of the qualities Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic possess, according to the man he defeated in the men's US Open final Casper Ruud.

Prodigious Spanish talent Alcaraz became a grand slam champion for the first time at the age of just 19 thanks to a 6-4 2-6 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 triumph at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday.

It was a win that propelled him to the top of the world rankings for the first time, while Ruud has now lost two slam finals this year having been defeated by Nadal at the French Open.

Ruud was philosophical about losing to a player many believe will be the dominant force in the men's game, likening his movement on the court to legends Nadal and Djokovic.

"When someone asks about a player's biggest weapon you tend to think forehand, backhand, serve, whatever it is," Ruud said.

"But sort of his movement is one of his many weapons. It makes us other players feel like you need to paint the lines sort of to be able to hit a winner. Sometimes even that's not enough.

"He's very fast. He's very quick. He's a great mover. He can get to balls that we've probably never seen before.

"But you have other great movers, as well. I mean, this game has become so physically demanding, and all the players in the top of the world, they do the right things to improve always.

"Speed, agility of the players I think are just improving, improving. The physical aspect has been not changed but it has improved by everyone.

"I think Novak and Rafa and also [Roger] Federer, I think they kind of set the bar on how well you can move out there. 

"Rafa, when he was Carlos' age, he was also similar. He tracked down everything. Almost no one could hit a winner on him. Novak the same with his flexibility. He gets to certain shots that you think, 'how is that even possible?'

"Carlos has sort of a mixture of both. He's fast, flexible. He can slide around. It's impressive. He's a hard nut to crack."

Ruud can take consolation from the fact his second appearance at a slam final was a marked improvement on Roland Garros where Nadal breezed to a 6-3 6-3 6-0 triumph.

The Norwegian conceded he had more belief going up against Alcaraz in New York, though he – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – added he hopes not to play a Spaniard in any future slam finals.

"I think obviously if you reach a grand slam final, whoever you play will be a great player on the opposite side of the net," he added.

"At Roland Garros, it was hard for me to believe that I could beat Rafa. Today was not easier, but I believed it more. I think these two tournaments have sort of made my self-belief to win a grand slam grow.

"Hopefully these two experiences can help me. I guess I hope I don't play a Spanish player if I ever reach another slam final! They know what they're doing in the slam finals. Let's hope for another than a Spanish [player]."

Ruud added: "I still thought I was the underdog in a way because of Carlos, he's on paper higher ranking and all these things. 

"But it was more fun for me today. I didn't need to play the biggest idol of my life on the biggest match of my life. It was sort of easier for me to believe that I could win."

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