After nearly two full weeks out of action as he recovered from a right hamstring injury, Carlos Alcaraz returned to the court with the same elite level that has characterised his rise to superstardom over the course of the past year.
A semi-finalist last season at the BNP Paribas Open, Alcaraz received a hero’s welcome on the Indian Wells stadium court on Saturday night. He did not disappoint the expectant crowd, delivering with his all-action game in a 6-3, 6-3 victory against Thanasi Kokkinakis.
“I feel really comfortable playing here, staying here. I felt the love since I came onto the court” Alcaraz said in his post-match interview. “I have great memories, I made my first semi-finals at a Masters 1000 here, had that match against Rafa… It’s so special to come back here.”
Red hot from the start, Alcaraz dropped just one point on serve in the opening set and broke in his first return game as he raced to a 3-0 lead. Set two was tighter, with Kokkinakis effective in fighting power with power for stretches, but Alcaraz’s speed, defence and consistency was too much to overcome after another early break.
“I would say I played my best, apart from everything: the points that I have to defend, the semi-finals that I have to defend,” the 19-year-old said. “I tried not to think about that, just to play my game, to enjoy playing here. Of course I tried to make people enjoy watching tennis here… That’s what I liked from tonight.”
The Spaniard could return to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on 20 March by winning the Indian Wells title, which would be his third at the ATP Masters 1000 level after his triumphs in Madrid and Miami last year. It will take four more wins to accomplish that feat — a goal that Alcaraz did not shy away from in the buildup to the tournament.
His next opponent will be 31st seed Tallon Griekspoor, who defeated Guido Pella 7-6(3), 7-6(4) earlier on Saturday. Beyond that, Andy Murray or Jack Draper would await in the fourth round.
Off to a flier‼️@carlosalcaraz bursting out the blocks in his first match @BNPPARIBASOPEN
9.6 #ShotQuality on the forehand in Set 1️⃣
8.3 #ShotQuality on the return in Set 2️⃣
He moves on to play Griekspoor in the 3rd round#TennisInsights | @atptour pic.twitter.com/tE6Csj39G4
— Tennis Insights (@tennis_insights) March 12, 2023