Carlos Alcaraz and Casper Ruud have plotted different courses since meeting in the US Open final a month ago.
World No. 1 Alcaraz chose only to play the Davis Cup following his remarkable maiden Grand Slam victory. World No. 3 Ruud opted instead for a stacked schedule that soon took him from New York to the other side of the world.
Neither choice looked completely optimal after shock defeats in Astana and Tokyo this week.
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Alcaraz was beaten by lucky loser David Goffin in his first match in Astana, ending his streak of not having lost in straight sets for nearly a year.
In Tokyo, Ruud also went down in straight sets in his opener against Jaume Munar.
Alcaraz’s loss was particularly surprising.
World No. 66 Goffin had only qualified for the main draw after Holger Rune’s withdrawal, having lost in qualifying to 19-year-old world No. 152 Luca Nardi.
But he took advantage of a below-par display from Alcaraz, who finished with 15 winners and 34 unforced errors in his first ATP event since blazing his way to victory at the US Open.
“He played better than me, really, really aggressive,” acknowledged Alcaraz.
“I couldn’t handle that pressure that he was pushing on me, and of course, it’s something that I have to learn and take lessons from this match.
“Coming back to competition is never easy. He played two matches here on this court. It’s not easy to get used to; it’s really, really slow. It was really tough on me, for my confidence.
“I tried to get used to this court so quickly, but I couldn’t and he was better than me in this match.”

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Before losing to Goffin, Alcaraz had won at least a set in all of his 62 matches this season. The last time he lost in straight sets was at the 2021 Paris Masters.
Alcaraz will look to bounce back at his next event in Basel, which starts on October 24.
While Alcaraz perhaps looked short of match practice, it was the opposite for Ruud, who said his post-US Open schedule had been too busy.
Ruud lost to Alcaraz in the final in New York and afterwards flew straight home to Norway to play in the Davis Cup. He then competed in the Laver Cup, winning his one singles match, before heading to South Korea, where he lost his second match.
Ruud looked well below his best against world No. 58 Munar, making 32 unforced errors, including 25 on the forehand side.
"I might have pushed a little too much and tried to go for too many tournaments and too many matches in a row but I really wanted to come to Asia and play these tournaments," said the world No. 3 afterwards.

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"Today I wasn't able to bring my best level but it's an experience and a situation I will try to learn from.
"I couldn't find the level I needed to today. I wasn't able to get my feet going or the game going. If I want to play well I need to move well, and that wasn't the case today.”
Ruud plans now to return to Norway and said it would be "good for my body and soul to have some days and weeks off".
"It's been a long summer," he added. "I've been playing non-stop and I think my body felt it a little bit today - it was tough to get the machinery going."

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Alcaraz and Ruud have been two of the standout players this season.
Alcaraz has soared to world No. 1 on the back of winning five titles, including the US Open, Miami and Madrid.
Ruud’s three titles in 2022 have all come on clay but he has established himself as an all-court threat with runs to the final of the US Open, French Open and Miami Open.

How could losses impact the rankings?

Alcaraz and Ruud will remain in their ranking spots whatever happens on the ATP Tour this week.
Alcaraz has a healthy lead of over 1,000 points on Ruud, with second-placed Rafael Nadal not in the equation for No. 1 right now as he is not playing.
World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev could close the gap on Ruud this week. He has the chance to get to 5,565 points if he wins the title in Astana, which would put him just 80 points behind Ruud.
World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas can also close with a strong showing in Astana while world No. 7 Novak Djokovic is still a way back at 3,820.

ATP top 10 at the start of the week

  • Carlos Alcaraz – 6,740 points
  • Rafael Nadal – 5,810 points
  • Casper Ruud – 5,645 points
  • Daniil Medvedev – 5,065 points
  • Alexander Zverev – 5,040 points
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas – 4,810 points
  • Novak Djokovic – 3,820 points
  • Cameron Norrie – 3,445 points
  • Andrey Rublev – 3,345 points
  • Hubert Hurkacz – 3,175 points
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