In the latest installment of a rivalry that could define the ATP Tour for the next decade, Carlos Alcaraz edged Jannik Sinner to break new ground at the BNP Paribas Open and move within one victory of a return to the top of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
After Saturday’s 7-6(4), 6-3 triumph — in which he saved a set point in the opening set — the Spaniard will play his first Indian Wells final against Daniil Medvedev, knowing a win would secure his return to World No. 1.
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“I’m really happy with the performance today,” said Alcaraz, who has not lost a set this tournament. “I’m really happy to get through this great match. Jannik obviously is a really great player with great shots.
“I would say we’re going to have a great rivalry over the years. We are playing in the best tournaments in the world. It’s not over here. We are going to play a lot of great matches. All I can say is I’m really happy with my first final here in Indian Wells.”
The blockbuster semi-final was the fifth ATP Head2Head meeting between Alcaraz and Sinner, and the first since their marathon US Open quarter-final that set a record for latest New York finish at 2:50 a.m. The Spaniard won their desert showdown in a brisk-by-comparison one hour, 52 minutes to improve to 3-2 in the budding rivalry.
The bulk of the drama came in a back-and-forth opening set as Sinner took full advantage of a dip in level from his opponent to turn a 2-4 deficit into a 5-4 lead, winning 11 straight points in the process. Sinner kept the pressure on to create a set point at 6-5, but a uniquely Alcaraz combination — big serve, drop shot, volley winner — erased the chance and ensured the set would be decided in a tie-break.
Encouraged by his escape, the Spaniard powered through the tie-break, a pair of backhand blasts on set point sealing the deal.
“Playing against Jannik is never easy. I had to overcome a little bit of problems. I had set point down,” Alcaraz said of that crucial period. “I knew that I had to increase my level to [beat] Jannik. It was a really close first set. In the second set I put out all the nerves and played more relaxed. I think it was the key of everything.”
Alcaraz expertly carried his momentum into set two, when he consolidated an early break with a point-of-the-season contender, planting a topspin lob on the baseline after a Sinner dipper forced him to retreat from the net.
He later wriggled out of 0/30 to hold for 5-2, and served out the match with ease behind a pair of punishing forehand winners.
Champion in Miami last season, Alcaraz will bid to become the youngest man to win both legs of the Sunshine Double on Sunday. Also the reigning titlist in Madrid, the 19-year-old is seeking to join countryman Rafael Nadal as the only man to win at least three ATP Masters 1000 titles as a teen (Nadal won six). Alcaraz is 2-0 in his previous finals at that prestigious level.
The Spaniard has reached the final in all three of his 2023 events, with a win in Buenos Aires and a defeat in Rio de Janeiro, both against Cameron Norrie. He missed more than three months from last November due to abdominal and hamstring injuries before making his season debut in Buenos Aires in February.
Alcaraz’s Sunday meeting with Medvedev will be the pair’s second ATP Head2Head matchup, with Medvedev winning their previous meeting in straight sets at Wimbledon in 2021. The fifth seed brings a 19-match and three-tournament winning streak into the title match.
“I really want to play against the best tennis player in the world,” Alcaraz said, looking ahead to the final. “I always say that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and I would say that Daniil is the best player right now… amazing winning streak.
“For me, it’s going to be a really difficult challenge but I’m really prepared for that. I will summon my best tomorrow in the final.”
Sinner, who made history by becoming the first Italian man to reach the Indian Wells quarter-finals or semi-finals, moved up two places to No. 11 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings behind his run to the last four. He was seeking the biggest win of his career by measure of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings against World No. 2 Alcaraz.