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Carlos Alcaraz beat Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals of Indian Wells on Saturday, March 18.

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This match was one of the most anticipated encounters of the week. In press conference, both players were asked about their growing rivalry. They were full of praise for each other. Carlos Alcaraz said that this rivalry pushes him to improve himself every time they play against each other. Despite his harsh loss at the US Open, Jannik Sinner seemed as excited to face the current second player of the world.

Carlos Alcaraz, better in the moments that mattered

Carlos Alcaraz won the toss but decided to receive. This strategy was a success for Jannik Sinner who won his first game of serve easily. Despite a few errors in length, the Spanish kept his serve: 1/1. Both players enforced similar game patterns. They imprinted a constant aggressiveness during the rallies. No strike was neutral; each one was meant to take time away from the opponent. To do so, Carlos Alcaraz played close to the lines and Jannik Sinner multiplied forehand accelerations: 2/2.

The latter tried to enforce a speedy rhythm during his game of serves. His haste between his first and second balls costed him two double faults. Carlos Alcaraz took advantage of this opening to get break points. The first one was saved by an ace ; the second one was converted after a ball that landed in the net. The young Spanish led 3/2. He took more initiative while Jannik Sinner waited for the perfect ball to counter-attack. As soon as the occasion came, they didn’t hesitate to rush to the net to conclude the rally: 4/3, Carlos Alcaraz’ serve to follow.

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He played a chaotic game which offered a love break to his opponent: 4/4. Jannik Sinner remained consistent; he let his opponent multiply unusual errors. The young Spanish managed to reach the tiebreak thanks to the quality of his serve. Carlos Alcaraz rose his level of play while the Italian was held back by pressure. Lacking first balls, his opponent took time away from him. Juan Carlos Ferrero’s player led one set to love: 7/6.

During this long first set, both rivals played rallies from the back of the court full of power and intelligence. Their shared will to play forward and to change rhythm was crystal clear. Despite a drop in performance, Carlos Alcaraz took the lead of the semi-final. In the moment that mattered, he managed to play the right balls.

Jannik Sinner, out of solutions

Galvanized by the win of the first set, Carlos Alcaraz freed his strikes. He erased his missed attempts of dropshot in the beginning of the match by an amazing ball that landed just behind the net: 1/0. Jannik Sinner lost his explosiveness. The Spanish managed to neutralize the power of his strikes. After a banana shot – that had nothing to envy from Rafael Nadal’s one – Carlos Alcaraz got a break point. A rally worthy of their US Open match enabled the Spanish to lead 3/0: rises to the net, counter dropshot, backhand smash and a lob that landed on the line.

Jannik Sinner found back his strike quality during the fourth game: 3/1. The rallies were made of strikes of an unreal precision and violence. Carlos Alcaraz played an ace in the greatest moment: 4/1. Thanks to his out of this world defense abilities, the former world number one got a double break point. He took his chance with a dazzling return that missed the line. Despite his lack of first balls, Jannik Sinner got through: 4/2. He kept on cheering himself up and didn’t cave in. A powerful return in Carlos Alcaraz’ feet followed by a double fault allowed the Italian to reach 0-30. Promptly, ‘Carlitos’ played a string of first serves – with multiple effects and trajectories – that crushed all hope for Jannik Sinner : 5/2. In a state of grace, Carlos Alcaraz was inspired by the greatest. On a second serve of Jannik Sinner, he made a SABR [Sneaky Attack by Roger Federer]. Jannik Sinner still managed to win his serve: 5/3. Carlos Alcaraz only had to serve for the match ; which he did perfectly.

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In the second set, Carlos Alcaraz freed himself. Without the pressure that held him back in the first set, he succeeded everything that he tried. Nearer of his baseline, he managed to neutralize Jannik Sinner’s attacks. The latter, disturbed by his low percentage of first balls, didn’t manage to worry his opponent. The defensive abilities of Carlos Alcaraz got the better of his dazzling forehand and backhand accelerations.

The encounter allowed Carlos Alcaraz to take the lead of their Head2Head: 3 wins for 2 losses. Both players, once again, showed the extent of their talent. Despite lacking first serves, Jannik Sinner used his other assets: depth, trajectories that got his opponent out of the court and always smart rises to the net. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough to rip the victory out of Carlos Alcaraz’ hands. The latter rose his level of play during the match. The variety of his weapons got the better of his rival: dropshots, court cross winners, kick serves, high quality returns and explosiveness.

For the final, Carlos Alcaraz will face Daniil Medvedev. The latter remains unbeaten in his last 18 matches. Beating him won’t be easy but the young Spanish seems determined to clinch a third masters 1000 title.

Marnie Abbou

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