Rafael Nadal wins thriller in high winds against Carlos Alcaraz to reach Indian Wells final | ATP tour

Carlos Alcaraz showed why he was the future on Saturday at Indian Wells, but Rafael Nadal proved he was still there.

The three-time BNP Paribas Open champion reached his fifth final in the California desert with a thrilling 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over his fellow Spaniard after a grueling three hours and 12 minutes in high winds. The legendary southpaw will face American Taylor Fritz for the trophy.

“I’m super happy to be in the final,” Nadal said during his on-court interview. “It means a lot to me, and I will continue.”

Nadal is off to a record 20-0 start to the season with titles at Melbourne ATP 250, Australian Open and Acapulco. If the fourth seed beats Fritz on Sunday, he will tie Novak Djokovic for the most ATP Masters 1000 titles in history with 37.

It was a remarkable scene as the cameras followed Nadal and Alcaraz on their golf cart ride to the field in the California desert. Nadal, a highly respected figure in the sports world, was in the back of the wagon, intense as ever. Alcaraz, who was in the middle, is being touted as the future of Spanish tennis and, possibly, the ATP Tour.

“I took it as another semi-final game. He’s not a young player who is 100 years old in the world and coming. He’s already a top player, so I treated him like that, playing against one of the best players in the world,” Nadal said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s young or not, he’s a great guy, an amazing player and he has a fantastic future. I treated him like that, I just tried to get on the court, do I did my best and to accept all the challenges. I finished and it was a very important victory for me.”

Little did the Spaniards know that not only would they have to deal with each other’s skills, but also a long period of massive gusts of wind. After a high quality, physical first set, the wind picked up so much that towels and trash from the stands flew across the pitch, the singles sticks were moved and the match became a battle of adjustments. more footwork than clubbed winners (Alcaraz hit 39 winners to Nadal’s 20).

“It’s not tennis. It’s survival,” former world number one Jim Courier told Tennis Channel during the second set.

“The net looks like a sail,” added longtime coach and analyst Paul Annacone.

Rafael Nadal wins one of many upcoming deals with Carlos Alcaraz.”
Photo credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Despite the winds, both players raised their level in the decider. At 3-3, the fans rose to their feet in respect for the players’ efforts, especially Nadal’s incredible reflexes at the net, which even left his own side shaking their heads in disbelief.

In the end, Nadal’s relentless pressure proved critical. The 35-year-old earned the decisive break at 4-3 when he landed a huge forehand down the line and raced towards the net to put away a high forehand volley. It was his sixth break of the match, and the one that allowed him to finally overcome the teenager’s commendable resistance.

“The wind slowed down a bit and then I knew I had to do something because in the second everything was so difficult. If I went to the net then it was so difficult to deal with the volleys,” Nadal said. “When the wind stopped a bit, I thought I had to play aggressive, because otherwise Carlos was going to shoot and then it was going to be in his hands. I tried to play more aggressive, that worked well.”

Alcaraz, 18, saved 15 of the 20 break points he faced in straight sets, but failing to save the only one he faced in the deciding match proved fatal. The second-youngest semi-finalist in Indian Wells tournament history (behind 17-year-old Andre Agassi in 1988) fought to the last ball, but Rafa would not be denied.

The pair first faced off last year on clay in Madrid, where Nadal prevailed 6-1, 6-2 in just 78 minutes after five breaks of serve. But it was clear from the first match that today’s Alcaraz have made great strides in the 10 months since that encounter, with the teenager still yet to break into the Top 100 of the ATP rankings.

Now world No. 19 and climbing higher and higher each week, Alcaraz came out firing. He threw groundstrokes fearlessly, crushing Nadal, who so often physically imposes his will on his opponents. It helped the 18-year-old get an early break after crushing a laser-like cross backhand winner. He then saved five break points in the next game to shore it up.

But no one intimidates Nadal, which the 35-year-old proved throughout the game. As aggressive as Alcaraz was, he also made untimely errors that put him under pressure. And once fourth-seeded Nadal forced his way into the game, he showed no intention of letting go, even with the wind.

The southpaw got a jaw-dropping 17 break points in the opener, claiming three of them. Although Alcaraz showed his grit and determination by saving most of those chances and returning to serve after losing four games in a row, he found himself on the back foot too often in games.

With Nadal’s high level and Alcaraz’s disappointment after losing the first set, it seemed the momentum was entirely on the veteran side of the net. But the 18-year-old did well to stay in contact early in the set, then the wind started to pick up.

If the first set was a heavyweight boxing match, the second set was on stilts. Through no fault of the players, they had to fight against the wind as much as they fought. There were fewer jaw-dropping rallies in which the pair fired bullet after bullet from corner to corner. Now we had to position ourselves so as not to make too many mistakes and give ourselves free points because of the gusts.

The critical match was at 4-4, which lasted about 20 minutes. On his seventh break point of the match, Alcaraz hit an incredible lob that left Nadal helpless. He then served the set to force a decider on Stage 1.

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“I think he started playing amazing. I was playing well at first, it was so hard to stop him with his amazing shots. But then I think after [those] First 15 minutes of the game I can’t say I was under control because it’s impossible to be under control against a player like him,” Nadal said. “Then I made some mistakes there , then the set [got] complicated.

“But in the second the conditions went crazy, honestly. It’s not fun to play [with] this wind. Even if it is sometimes a challenge, I can take advantage of it. But in terms of tennis, it’s fine. In terms of stopping all the time because [of] the Internet, [that] was no good.”

The winds eased slightly in the third set, allowing ball crushing to resume. Nadal’s comfort on the forecourt proved crucial, as he won 20 of his 30 approaches to the net in his win. Rafa, a 36-time Masters 1000 holder, saved all three break points he faced in the final set.

“In the third I think I played a lot better. I played more aggressive,” Nadal said. “It’s true that I saved a few balls, but he also played some very good points, saving some incredible balls.”

Nadal had to overcome several challenges in Indian Wells in March, moving past Sebastian Korda in a final set tie-break, moving past the tricky Daniel Evans, grating past Reilly Opelka and overcoming the highly motivated Nick Kyrgios.

Home favorite Fritz, who struggled in two tie-breaks in the final earlier in the tournament, knocked out seventh seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets in the semi-finals. Nadal won his only previous clash against the American in the 2020 Acapulco Final in straight sets.

Note: This story has been updated to correct Nadal’s clean approach count, which was incorrect in an earlier version. He won 20 of 30 points at net.

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