As the sun went down in Riverside County yesterday, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest man to make an Indian Wells semifinal since Andre Agassi in 1988. However, even Agassi’s run falls short in comparison––Alcaraz hasn’t dropped a set yet. His eight-set journey to the semifinals reveals a trail of compact, efficient victories over top players, including resurgent veteran Gael Monfils and the tournament’s defending champion, Cameron Norrie. Alcaraz’s own words on his playing style, “[I’m] trying to be aggressive at all times,” do not fully capture the buzzsaw-like offense he has displayed at Indian Wells this year. Tomorrow’s match against fellow Spaniard and his self-proclaimed idol, Rafa Nadal, will be his biggest test to date.
It is a real moment to savor for Alcaraz, who looked totally in control during Thursday’s 6-4 6-3 quarterfinal victory over Norrie. Throughout his meteoric rise on the ATP Tour, Alcaraz has often referred to Nada as the inspiration for his game. “He’s my idol because of his character, attitude, and the passion he has for tennis,” a 17-year-old Alcaraz proclaimed in 2020. The admiration between the Spanish nationals is clear. Speaking ahead of their upcoming match, Nadal remarked, “Carlos reminds me a lot of myself when I was 17 or 18. I think he has the passion, talent, and physical components.”
Alcaraz’s performance at Indian Wells is another distinction of his already-unprecedented year. In January, he marched to the third round of the Australian Open, eventually losing to Matteo Berrettini 2-6 6-7(3) 6-4 6-2 6-7(5) in a thriller lasting four hours and 10 minutes. A month later, Alcaraz avenged himself against Berrettini, beating the Italian 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the Rio Open. After his quarterfinal victory, Alcaraz ventured on to win the entire tournament, beating Diego Schwartzman 6-4 6-2 to secure his first-ever ATP 500 Title. The title win served as a sizable rankings boost, too. Alcaraz entered California’s “fifth Grand Slam” with a career-high ranking of 19.
In the round of 64, Alcaraz met Mackenzie “Mackie” McDonald, the California-native and former UCLA standout. McDonald, much like Alcaraz, can tap into a defensive athleticism that quickly transitions to a point-winning offense. Despite a series of quality exchanges marking the match’s opening games, Alcaraz’s physicality soon proved too much for McDonald. His 6-3, 6-3 victory in a little over an hour and a half looked impressive––and it was. In total, the Spaniard broke McDonald’s serve five times.
After McDonald, Alcaraz’s quest through the desert continued to gain attention. In the third round, he faced Spanish Davis Cup teammate and 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut. At 33, Bautista Agut is very much senior to 18-year-old Alcaraz. However, the youngster took no time in proving experience isn’t everything, vanquishing Bautista Agut 6-2, 6-0 in just over an hour. After the match, Alcaraz described the affair as “one of my best performances.” Bautista Agut, coming off a title win at the Qatar Open last month, would have to agree. Altogether, Alcaraz hit 29 winners in 14 games. In comparison, Bautista Agut managed just one––a testament to his countryman’s voracious defense.
Following a gruelling 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over world #1 Daniil Medvedev, Monfils, Alcaraz’s fourth-round matchup, appeared to be the likely candidate to spoil the Spaniard’s run. Several tense rallies throughout the first set proved the 35-year-old Monfils could hold his own against Alcaraz’s intensity and pressure. But then, at 5-all in the first set, Alcaraz showed his natural touch, disguising a forehand drop shot to break Monfils and go up 6-5. A quick hold of serve ended the set, 7-5 Alcaraz. The momentum shifted – Monfils is rarely out done on the tennis court. Throughout his 7-5, 6-1 victory, Alcaraz never faced a break point, converting 84% (36/43) of his service points.
The young Spaniard’s latest victory came last night as he outplayed defending champion Cameron Norrie 6-4 6-3. To a packed crowd under the lights on Court 1, Alcaraz’s performance looked inescapable at times, reacting to close-range volleys with impossibly-fast reflexes and sliding around the baseline on defense. Norrie, who currently holds Britain’s No. 1 ranking, expressed a similar sentiment. “It’s very cool to see him that focused and engaged and maximizing what he’s got with all the talent that he’s got,” Norrie remarked after the match. “He was too good today for me.”
Regardless of the outcome, Alcaraz’s semifinal tomorrow against Nadal will mark another shining moment in the 18-year-old’s career. With both men dominating the ATP Tour so far this season (Alcaraz is 12-1, Nadal is 19-0), one thing is for sure: there may be a changing of the guard, but it’s still a Spanish monarchy.
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