When I first heard I’d have the opportunity to see Jon Rahm at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, I figured we’d be kindred spirits.
Rahm, after all, is a golf guy — just like me — and one of the first rules of being a golf guy is that golf must be your chosen country-club sport.
Much as you might enjoy racquetball, squash or pickleball, those sports can never outweigh your passion for golf. This is doubly true for golf’s longtime archrival, tennis. You must resist the urge to hear the white-clothed siren song of neon-green ball and clay court blaring from just beyond the first fairway. For tennis is yin and golf is yang, and to interrupt that holy balance would be to throw off the entirety of the country-club universe.
I figured I would arrive at Arthur Ashe Stadium to find Rahm, in New York for a day as part of his partnership with Maestro Dobel Tequila, largely indifferent to the proceedings of the court before us. We’d offer our perfunctory praise of tennis — “wow, can you believe how hard they hit it?” and “sheesh, I could NEVER do that” — and then just as quickly turn our attention to the real topic at hand: golf.
As it turned out, I figured wrong. I arrived in Forest Hills to find Rahm practically chomping at the bit to see a round of 64 match between two players I’d never heard of. We chatted for a few minutes about tennis and it quickly became apparent that he had forgotten more about the sport than I ever knew.
Before our interview started, he groaned as he confessed to me that his departing flight would leave before that evening’s primetime match. Had he just looked at the schedule, he told me, he would have stuck around to see his second-favorite player — Carlos Alcaraz — begin his U.S. Open title defense in earnest.
“Obviously. I have to root for Carlos,” he said with a grin. “I’ve got to pull for home court in Spain. It’s incredible what he’s done. My fault that I didn’t know much about him until he popped up at a U.S. Open and now all of the sudden he’s number 1 in the world.”
Rahm’s love for Carlos begins with their home country. Though their upbringings came in decidedly different iterations of Spanish culture (Alcaraz is from the central province of Murcia, while Rahm is from Basque country in the north), there is a shared bond that comes with international sports stardom under the Spanish flag.
“I’m a big Rafa fan, like many others, but he inspired a big generation of people to love tennis in Spain, and I think we’re seeing the dividends of that with Carlos coming out,” Rahm said. “Any time you’re breaking any records that Novak [Djokovic], Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] weren’t able to do, you know you’re doing something very special.”
Rahm was embarrassed to admit he had never met Alcaraz, the 20-year-old sensation whose game runs notably counter to Rahm’s brute-force bludgeoning. If the reigning Masters champ is a heavyweight prizefighter; Alcaraz is one-half Energizer Bunny, one-half skilled assassin.
Some of this diversity in ability helps to explain Rahm’s love for tennis, which runs deep but comes with a decidedly less tidy explanation.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you why,” he said. “Not one person in my family has set foot on the tennis court ever, but I’ve always loved to watch it…
I respect the game so much and I admire so much what they do, as I do with other sports but with tennis especially,” Rahm said. “They’re arguably the best athletes out there, right? You have to have agility, speed, cardio, hand-eye coordination, everything.”
Maybe it helps too, Rahm admits, that two of the best tennis players of the last three decades just so happened to come from his shared heritage.
“When you get the accolades that Djokovic gave Carlos in Wimbledon, it’s even more special, I can’t even put it into words,” Rahm said. “When you have the three greatest of all-time talking about you the way they are, you know you’re something special.”